In the midst of the ongoing Stephon Clark shooting scandal in Sacramento and the Baton Rouge Police Department’s decision regarding the officer who shot and killed Alton Sterling, the United States Supreme Court made what will likely prove to be an unpopular decision on Monday. According to Reuters, the highest court in the land sided with an Arizona police officer accused of using excessive force against a woman in an incident in 2010. Andrew Kisela shot Amy Hughes four times when she allegedly came at him with a large kitchen knife. However, two other officers on the scene contradict Kisela’s claim.
The court ruled in Kisela’s favor in an unsigned opinion overturning a lower court ruling from 2016 “that had allowed the civil rights lawsuit seeking at least $150,000 in damages” from Kisela, a corporal in the University of Arizona Police Department. Hughes had accused Kisela of excessive force, thereby violating her Fourth Amendment rights, but the Supreme Court’s new decision argues otherwise. Its signed dissenting opinion, however, does not:
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that Kisela’s conduct was unreasonable and the court should not shield him from liability. Sotomayor criticized the court’s decision as another example of its “unflinching willingness” to reverse lower courts when they deny officers immunity. Fellow liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Sotomayor in the dissent.
The decision sends the wrong signal to police, Sotomayor wrote. “It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished,” Sotomayor added.
During the 2010 incident, Kisela and two other University of Arizona police officers rushed to Hughes’s off-campus house “after receiving a call about a woman acting erratically and hacking a tree with a knife.” Her friend and housemate, Sharon Chadwick, claimed “Hughes had threatened to kill [her] dog Bunny with a knife over a $20 magazine subscription.” When confronted by the three officers, Hughes — who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and on medication — apparently did not respond to their commands. Kisela claimed she raised her knife, but his fellow officers denied this when asked about it by investigators.