US Supreme Court Decides Excessive Force Case in Favor of Police Officer

On April 2, 2018, the US Supreme Court, in Kisela v Hughes, ruled that a police officer who shot a woman holding a large kitchen knife, who had taken steps toward another woman standing nearby, and had refused to drop the knife after at least two commands to do so, was entitled to qualified immunity from a civil lawsuit for money damages based upon 42 USC §1983.  Qualified immunity attaches when an official’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

The Court reversed the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, observing that the 9th Circuit’s reliance on a particular case “does not pass the straight-face test.” A dissenting justice asserted that the Supreme Court misunderstood the facts, misapplied the law, and was sending a signal that officers “can shoot first and think later” and that the Court’s opinion “tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct [by police officers] will go unpunished.”