The Supreme Court decided Monday that a Texas state trooper who shot and killed a fleeing suspect in a high-speed chase cannot be held civilly liable for the man's death, even though the officer's superior had told him not to shoot, reports the Washington Post.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, criticizing her colleagues for "sanctioning a 'shoot first, think later' approach." But the other eight justices thought it was so clear that Trooper Chadrin Mullenix was immune from lawsuit that they ruled without accepting the case for full briefing and argument.
In 2010, Israel Leija Jr. evaded arrest for an outstanding warrant and sped away in a high-speed chase, calling dispatchers to say he was armed and would shoot officers if they didn't stop pursuing him. Officers set up spike strips to puncture his tires, and Mullenix took a position on a highway overpass. He suggested shooting at Leija’s engine to stop the chase, but a superior told him to wait to see whether the spikes worked.
Instead, Mullenix fired six shots. None hit the engine; four struck Leija and killed him.
The Supreme Court's opinion repeated that the doctrine of qualified immunity shields officers as long as their conduct "does not violate clearly established statutory or constitution rights which a reasonable person would have known."