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The Policeman’s Lot, Cont. [By James Kilpatrick] On a morning in July 2002, two Atlanta police officers stopped at a traffic light in suburban College Park. They were on their way to routine duty at the city’s airport. As it turned out, they ended up as petitioners in Case No. 06-992 in the U.S. Supreme Court. The officers are victims of a bad opinion that cries out for speedy reversal.

Their story unfolded at the deliberate pace of

Here, the two officers had abundant reason

Katz, had attempted to stage a modest

a bad dream. As Officers Marilyn Stone and

to believe that Jones intended to kill them

demonstration. Vice President Al Gore was

Charles Frye waited for the light to change,

before they could jump out of the way. They

the speaker. In an excess of protective

the driver of a big Lincoln Navigator, one

had reacted as experienced officers must

zeal, the cops gently roughed up the

Allison Jones, raced past them. Trying to turn

react. As the 11th Circuit remarked in a

demonstrator. He sued. After years of

at high speed onto I-85, Jones lost control

case two years ago, “The determination of

lower court proceedings, the Supremes

and crashed into a guard rail. The officers did

reasonableness must be made from the

ruled 8-1 in favor of the cops. An officer’s

what officers do. They turned on their siren

perspective of the officers.” There has to

“gratuitous shove,” said Justice Anthony

and lights and rushed to the scene.

be some allowance “for the fact that police

Kennedy, was somewhere on the “hazy

officers are often forced to make split-

border between excessive and acceptable

Eyewitnesses eventually would testify that

second judgments in circumstances that are

force.” In a concurring opinion, Justice

Stone and Frye approached the Navigator,

tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving ...”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said courts must take

rapped on the driver’s window, and asked

into account “the particular circumstances

the driver to step outside. Instead of obeying

Remarkably, a three-judge panel of this

confronting a defendant officer.”

their command, Jones suddenly shifted

same 11th Circuit last August summarily

into reverse in an attempt to run them

reversed the District Court’s reasoned

Late in 2004, the court sided again with

down — or so it appeared to persons on

opinion. The appellate judges said a

a police officer, this time with Rochelle

the scene. Stone leaped out of the way and

reasonable jury might believe that: Stone

Brosseau in Puyallup, Wash. Like Marilyn

fired. Frye fired what would prove to be a

and Frye fired upon a vehicle “containing an

Stone in Georgia, she used her weapon under

fatal shot. It is a fair surmise that barely five

accident victim who was neither threatening

the heart-stopping pressure of a potentially

minutes had elapsed.

the officers with harm nor a suspect in a

fatal moment.

crime (other than a possible misdemeanor The Georgia Bureau of Investigation filed a

traffic violation).” On the other hand, said

A policeman’s lot is often not a happy one.

report. Jones tested positive for cocaine and

the panel, if Frye and Stone could prove

In the case at hand, the 11th Circuit has

alcohol. Police recovered a partial “crack”

they were acting in self-defense, their use

compounded the burden upon two officers

pipe from the driver’s floorboard, along with

of force “was not unreasonable and did not

who did what they were trained to do.

a pink bag commonly used for crack cocaine.

violate Jones’ constitutional rights.” It would

Reverse!

It turned out that Jones had a previous

be up to a trial court to decide.

conviction for a narcotics violation and was even then on probation.

(Letters to Mr. Kilpatrick should be sent by In the dangerous world of criminal law

e-mail to kilpatjj@aol.com.)

enforcement, how much force is too much Eventually Jones’ widow sued the Atlanta

force? In recent years the Supreme Court

COPYRIGHT 2005 UNIVERSAL PRESS

officers under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code

has twice grappled with the question. The

SYNDICATE

for violation of his civil rights. The officers

not-very-satisfactory answer appears to be,

won a summary judgment in U.S. District

“It depends.”

This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or

Court on their plea of “qualified immunity.” Given the circumstances, their use of deadly

In June 2001, the high court found in

otherwise without the written permission of

force was “objectively reasonable.” The

favor of Donald Saucier, a military police

uclick and Universal Press Syndicate.

defense lies at the very essence of law and

officer at the Presidio in San Francisco.

order. Without it, police would be vulnerable

At a dedicatory ceremony in 1994, an

to incessant suit for damages.

ardent advocate of animal rights, Elliot

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The Policeman's Lot, Cont.