Life can be difficult down here in the trenches. For example, when somebody dies due to our misdeeds or negligence we usually end up facing criminal charges and being sentences to rot in a cage for years. Not so for the king’s men. The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of protecting police from their negligence:
The case revolved around the fatal police shooting of Samuel Paulie in New Mexico. Police officers arrived at the Paulie brothers’ home after two women called police to report one of the Paulies allegedly driving drunk. According to the facts presented in the ruling, police determined after talking to the women that they did not have probable cause to arrest Paulie but wanted to go to his house anyway to “get his side of the story,” to see if he was drunk, and to see if there was anything else going on. The officers went separately. The first two officers to arrive didn’t identify themselves as police, instead telling the Paulies they were surrounded and to come out or they would come in, causing the Paulies to believe they were being targeted for a home invasion and to arm themselves.
That’s when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell “we have guns.” He took cover behind a wall. Sam Paulie then exited his house with a shotgun, firing one shot that didn’t hit anyone. One of the officers shot at Paulie but missed. Then White left his cover and fired at Paulie, killing him.
The Supreme Court ruled that White deserved qualified immunity (a concept that, in essence, protects government employees from liability and civil damages so long as “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” as the Supreme Court decided in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald.
This is an example of police negligence leading to death. The police didn’t announce themselves but threatened Mr. Paulie. Under such circumstances it’s easy to see to see why Mr. Paulie might think his home was being invaded by a nongovernmental gang. Office White arrived on the scene after his cohorts had already made a mess of things but he didn’t bother alerting Mr. Paulie that he was in office either. Apparently the department doesn’t train its office to say, “We’re the police.”
Some people will likely side with Officer White by claiming he acting in self-defense. But such a defense generally requires that one demonstrate that they didn’t create the situation. In Minnesota we call this being a reluctant participant. If you created the situation then you generally can’t claim self-defense. Unless, of course, you have a badge.