A ruling earlier this month by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has opened the way for the parents of a teenager shot dead by police officers in Washington County to move ahead with an Oregon wrongful death lawsuit, according to a recent article in The Oregonian.
The case stems from the 2006 death of an 18-year old near Tigard, in Washington County, Oregon. The teenager was threatening to kill himself with a pocketknife when police officers arrived at the site of the incident. Within four minutes the officers had fired 11 shots, killing the teen, despite pleas from his family and friends that the boy posed a threat to no one but himself. The family has long claimed that the law enforcement officers overreacted and made little effort to assess the situation before using deadly force.
After the Washington County sheriff’s office issued an investigative report absolving the officers from any improper conduct the teen’s family “brought suit against the officers and the county in (an Oregon) wrongful death claim, alleging an unconstitutional use of force,” according to the newspaper. A federal district court issued a summary judgment in favor of the officers and the county, but the circuit court has now reversed that ruling and sent the case back to the lower court.
The paper reports that the appellate ruling found “that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the constitutionality of the officers’ use of force,” and sent the case back to the lower court for a jury trial. “A jury should have the opportunity to assess the reasonableness of the force used after hearing all the evidence,” the court wrote, according to The Oregonian.
As a Portland wrongful death attorney one cannot help but applaud this important federal court decision. One of the most important rights we enjoy as Americans is the right to challenge the police and other authorities when we believe them to have acted improperly. Police and other law enforcement officials go to great lengths and take great risks to protect us all. That does not, however, mean that they can or should be above the law if they step out of line or otherwise act improperly, or that citizens should be denied their day in court when they feel they have been wronged.