On April 2, 2018, the United States Supreme Court clarified that peace officers are permitted to use deadly force in order to protect third parties.
In Kisela v. Hughes, three Tucson, Arizona police officers responded to reports of a woman hacking at a tree with a kitchen knife and acting erratically. Upon arriving on the scene, the officers spotted a woman, later identified as Sharon Chadwick, standing in the driveway of a nearby house. A chain-link fence separated Chadwick from the three officers.
Amy Hughes came out of that same house carrying a large knife at her side. She matched the description of the woman who had been seen hacking a tree. Hughes walked toward Chadwick. She stopped no more than six feet from her.
All three officers drew their guns. At least twice they told Hughes to drop the knife. Chadwick said “take it easy” to both Hughes and the three officers. Although Hughes appeared calm, she failed to acknowledge the officers’ presence or drop the knife.
The top bar of the chain-link fence blocked Officer Kisela’s line of fire. He dropped to the ground and shot Hughes four times through the fence. Less than a minute transpired from the moment the officers saw Chadwick to the moment Kisela fired shots.
All three officers jumped the fence, handcuffed Hughes, and called paramedics—who transported her to a hospital. At the hospital, she was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Afterwards, Hughes sued Officer Kisela under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, alleging excessive force in violation of her constitutional rights.
While underscoring the need for officers to make spit-second decisions, the Court declined to engage in the second-guessing of officers on the scene. The Court specifically noted that although the officers themselves were in no apparent danger, all three of the officers said at the time of the shooting they subjectively believed Hughes to be a threat to Chadwick. To that end, Officer Kisela was entitled to the defense of qualified immunity
This is an important case for California peace officers. It underscores that officers are entitled to qualified immunity when utilizing deadly force in order to protect third-parties.