Johnson v. City of Philadelphia — civil rights — affirmance — Fuentes
A lone police office responding to a radio call arrived on the scene to find a man “standing in the street, naked, high on PCP, and yelling and flailing his arms.” Police department policy directed the officer on what to do: “DEESCELAT[E] THE INCIDENT” by waiting for back-up, attempting to de-escalate through conversation, and retreating instead of using force. But, instead, the officer ordered the man to approach him. A confrontation ensued, the man reached for the officer’s gun, and the officer tasered the man and then used his gun to kill him. The man’s estate sued the officer and the city for excessive force.
Today, a divided Third Circuit panel affirmed dismissal of the man’s suit. The majority left open the possibility that an officer’s reckless initiation of an encounter could form the basis for an excessive-force claim, and also that the officer’s violation of department policy may be used to assess the reasonableness of a seizure. But the majority upheld dismissal of the suit on proximate-cause grounds, holding that there was no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find the requisite nexus between the officer’s act and the resulting death.
Judge Roth (notably, the only judge on the panel nominated by a Republican president) dissented, arguing, “By knowingly violating a police department regulation designed to keep mentally disturbed individuals safe, Dempsey set into motion the confrontation that ultimately led to Newsuan’s death – a confrontation whose foreseeability was the impetus for the establishment of Directive 136.”
Fuentes was joined by Krause, with Roth dissenting. Arguing counsel were Armando Pandola Jr. of Abramson & Denenberg for the estate and Craig Gottlieb of the city law department for the city.