Appeals Court Tells Seattle Cops New Use Of Force Policy Doesn't Violate Their 2nd Amendment Rights
from the stupid-is-as-stupid-sues dept
When the Department of Justice handed down remedies for the Seattle Police Department’s excessive use of excessive force, it told officers they would need to dial back their penchant for deadliness. Just prior to the DOJ’s civil rights investigation, the PD was responsible for 20% of the city’s homicides. The DOJ recommended officers work on their de-escalation tactics, as well as partake in training meant to steer officers away from viewing anything strange (medical conditions, mental health issues, drug impairment, behavioral crises) as something to be shot at or beaten.
Seattle PD officials adopted the DOJ recommendations and altered the department’s use of force policies. Rather than comply or quit, several police officers decided to file a federal lawsuit against the DOJ. The officers asserted a nonexistent right (the “right” to make it home alive) and hammered an existing right (the 2nd Amendment) to it in hopes of persuading a federal court that using less force less often somehow violated their right to keep and bear arms.
The crowdfunded lawsuit didn’t get very far. The district court pointed out the 2nd Amendment does not create a “right” to defend yourself, much less attempt to guarantee officers’ personal safety. Gun ownership is regulated, not a free pass for cops to violate PD use of force policies as they see fit. It also tossed a variety of other rights violations claims, noting these were even more tenuously connected to the officers’ protest of the new use of force policy than the 2nd Amendment claims.
The officers appealed this decision because of course they did. Despite raising less than $4,000 of their $100,000 legal defense fund goal, the officers apparently had enough funding to lose twice. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected [PDF] the officers’ ridiculous rights violation assertions. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)
As the court points out, the use of force policy these officers felt needed to be addressed with a civil rights lawsuit does zero damage to the officers’ civil rights.
The UF [Use of Force] Policy explicitly recognizes that Appellants may use their department-issued firearms in self-defense in an encounter with a suspect—including the use of deadly force with a firearm. The UF Policy states that “[d]eadly force may only be used in circumstances where threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others is imminent[,]” and recognizes that “sometimes the use-of-force is unavoidable[.]” As a result, the UF Policy does not impose a substantial burden on Appellants’ right to use a firearm for the purpose of lawful self-defense.
The court goes on to note the restrictions placed on force deployment do not undermine officers’ ability to defend themselves if needed.
The UF Policy requires Appellants to employ de-escalation techniques only “[w]hen safe under the totality of the circumstances and time and circumstances permit.” Thus, the UF Policy expressly contemplates that de-escalation techniques will not be feasible in every situation, and even states that “sometimes, the use of force is unavoidable.” The UF Policy also provides that Appellants may use deadly force where an objectively reasonable officer would conclude that the “threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others is imminent.” These provisions ensure that Appellants may use their department-issued firearms to defend themselves and the public.
The court also reminds officers use of force policies are written with more than police officers in mind. Their rights are not more important than the rights of the people they serve.
The UF Policy also requires that Appellants use “[d]e-escalation tactics and techniques . . . when safe and without compromising law enforcement priorities,” and states that Appellants “shall consider whether a subject’s lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist or an inability to comply based on” a variety of factors. Those provisions advance the City of Seattle’s important government interest of ensuring the safety of the public by mandating de-escalation techniques and reducing the likelihood that a firearm will be drawn or used where such force is not “objectively reasonable,” “proportional to the threat or urgency of the situation,” or “necessary to achieve a law-enforcement objective.”
Also struck down is the officers’ attempt to restructure the 2nd Amendment to cover their use of deadly force while on the clock. As the court notes, the rights are limited to “defending hearth and home.” Nowhere is it written police officers have a right to make it home safely, and there’s nothing in the Constitution that allows public employees to unjustifiably take the lives of others in order to ensure officers suffer no harm. That ends this particularly misguided attempt to turn the Constitution into a free pass for excessive force… unless there’s still enough left of the $3,730 to crank out a Supreme Court petition.
The 123 suing officers represent about a tenth of the Seattle PD’s police force. Why this percentage thought the new policy was worth suing over is unclear. The lawsuit was so misguided the Seattle police union didn’t offer its endorsement or support, and it’s in the business of suing over anything that threatens officer autonomy. The only thing this lawsuit has done is provided a list of 123 officers who would apparently prefer to shoot their way out of any situation, whether or not the use of force is justified.