Washington, DC – The family of a mentally ill, methamphetamine-fueled man who was fatally shot while charging at police with a metal hook will have their excessive force lawsuit heard by a jury, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
The Supreme Court refused the City of Newport Beach’s appeal to block the lawsuit.
The suit also asked the court to clarify whether or not law enforcement officers are required to “provide accommodations to an armed, violent and mentally ill suspect” under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The 9th Circuit court has said that the law, which requires public agencies to make accommodations for individuals with physical or mental disabilities, also applies to arrests.
Police use of deadly force is technically a seizure, or arrest, of a person.
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of Gerrit Vos, a 22-year-old hairdresser who was under the influence of methamphetamine when he began cursing and yelling inside a 7-Eleven store on May 29, 2014.
The store clerks and customers managed to escape from the building, although one victim was injured when Vos sliced his hand with what was later determined to be a metal hook, the Los Angeles Times reported.
At least eight Newport Beach officers and a K9 responded to the store.
“Shoot me!” Vos yelled during the encounter, according to police.
He ultimately charged out of the store, armed with the hook, and ran at the officers.
One officer deployed a 40mm less-lethal projectile launcher, and two other officers fired their duty weapons a few seconds later.
Vos died of his wounds, and toxicology reports ultimately confirmed that he had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his blood when he died.
Vos had also previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia, his family said.
The Orange County district attorney determined that the officers’ use of force was justified.
Vos’ parents subsequently filed a $25 million lawsuit against the city and the police department, alleging that officers used “excessive, unwarranted, and brutal” force during the encounter, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The lawsuit also suggested that police should have used “de-escalation and communication” skills to end the situation peacefully with the man who was charging them with a weapon.
Although a federal district judge initially dismissed the family’s lawsuit, the 9th Circuit ruled that a jury should determine whether or not police used excessive force.
“A reasonable jury could conclude that Vos did not pose an immediate threat such that the use of deadly force was warranted,” the majority said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Judge Carlos Bea was the single dissenter in the 2-1 ruling.
“It is reasonable for an officer, with only seconds to react, to conclude that the person wielding what looks like a knife and charging at him and his fellows would do serious harm to at least one of them,” Bea said.
He added that the majority’s opinion established a rule “that in all circumstances the governmental interest in deadly force is diminished where the subject is mentally ill.”
“Whether the person who charges the officer does so out of a base desire to kill, or does so because, in the midst of a psychotic episode, he thinks the officer is a monster or a ghost, the danger to the officer is the same,” Bea noted.
The City of Newport Beach asked the Supreme Court to clarify that point in the appeal.
“Municipalities and law enforcement officers throughout the nation should know whether, when faced with that peril, they must consider not only the 4th Amendment’s restrictions on use of force, but also whether they are providing reasonable accommodations to the attacking suspect,” the city’s attorneys said.
The Supreme Court considered the appeal for five weeks, but ultimately turned it down without comment.