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Driving home, Schaston Hodge stopped at a stop sign and turned left without signaling. Officers Litvin and Engleman attempted to pull Hodge over. Despite the officers lights and sirens, Hodge continued driving for several minutes until he reached his house. As Hodge parked in his driveway, Engleman jumped out of the police car and sprinted toward Hodges car with his gun drawn, ordering Hodge to show his hands and step out of the car. Hodge exited the car with a gun in his hands and pointed it at Engleman. Engleman fired, shooting Hodge, and dropped to the ground. Approaching behind Engleman and seeing him fall to the ground, Litvin also discharged his weapon. All told, Engleman fired eleven times and Litvin eight, hitting Hodge sixteen times.
Hodges mother, individually and as the administrator of his estate, sued Engleman and Litvin under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force. Engleman and Litvin moved to dismiss, claiming Qualified Immunity (QI). The district court relied on body camera video to dismiss because of QI. The court explicitly found that the blatantly contradictory video meant Hodges complaint failed to meet the low bar necessary to survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion. The 5th affirmed.
In SCOTUS Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007), the Court held where a video in the record shows no dispute, the court may view the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.
A court may rely on video evidence to resolve any claimed genuine disputes of material fact and rule on summary judgment. Englemans and Litvins bodycam footage is sufficiently clear and whole that there are no genuine disputes of material fact. The videos cover the entire event, from Englemans and Litvins pursuing Hodge after he made an illegal turn to their administering first aid after shooting him. Further, they show Hodge raising a gun and pointing it at Engleman, as well as the gun lying on the ground next to his hand after the officers had shot him. Thus, the videos blatantly contradict the allegations of the complaint that Hodge attempted to comply with Litvins command to show his hands, that Hodge turned towards the officer to comply, and that Hodge posed no threat of harm to Litvin and Engleman.
Having determined that no material facts are in dispute, we turn to whether the undisputed facts support defendants claim of QI.
To overcome a defense of QI, the plaintiff must show that the defendant violated a constitutional right and that the constitutional right was clearly established. We may begin with either prong of that analysis.
Because Engleman and Litvin acted reasonably, they did not violate Hodges Fourth Amendment rights. Thus, we address only that first prong.
Hodge claims that the use of deadly force was excessive and therefore a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. There can be no question that apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment. See SCOTUS Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). To establish an excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment, Hodge must allege (1) injury, (2) which resulted directly and only from a use of force that was clearly excessive, and (3) the excessiveness of which was clearly unreasonable. See Newman. There is no real dispute that the officers injured Hodge. So, the question is whether their use of force was clearly excessive and clearly unreasonable.
We evaluate reasonableness with a calculus that allows for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. See SCOTUS Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The variables include the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. The solution this court has reached repeatedly is that an officer who reasonably believes that the suspect poses a threat of serious harm to the officer may use deadly force. See Manis.
Introducing the video footage to the equation, we solve for the answer that Engleman and Litvin used a reasonable amount of force. Despite his very minor traffic infraction, Hodge did not pull over when the officers first flashed their lights or when they sounded their siren; he continued driving to his house. Then, Hodge did not pull into a short driveway and slowly exit his car; he drove deep into a driveway and jumped out of his car.
When Engleman approached him and shouted for Hodge to show Engleman his hands, Hodge pointed a gun at Engleman. When Engleman saw the gun and Litvin saw Engleman drop to the ground and fire, they each reasonably believed Hodge posed a threat of serious harm to them and made split-second judgments in that moment to use deadly force against Hodge. Whether we apply the standard of a reasonable officer on the scene or that of a math Ph.D.s thesis advisor, Engleman and Litvin acted reasonably.
Because Englemans and Litvins use of deadly force was reasonable, Hodges claim of a Fourth Amendment violation fails. Without a Fourth Amendment violation, Hodge cannot overcome QI. Therefore, the summary judgment is AFFIRMED.