Washington • The Supreme Court sided with police officers Tuesday who were sued over a high-speed, two-state chase that ended with the deaths of the fleeing driver and his passenger.
The court was unanimous in dismissing civil rights claims against the officers who fatally shot driver Donald Rickard.
The ruling Tuesday reversed a lower court decision that allowed the lawsuit filed on behalf of Rickard’s young daughter to go forward against six West Memphis, Ark., police officers.
They shot Rickard and passenger Kelly Allen in 2004 in a chaotic scene on a Memphis street following a chase, captured on video, which began across the Mississippi River in Arkansas. A police officer pulled over Rickard’s white Honda because a headlight was out. Rickard sped away when the officer asked him to get out of the car.
Several justices said during arguments in March that they had watched the video and gotten a better understanding of the danger facing the police. Police fired 15 shots into Rickard’s car, of which 12 came after Rickard managed to begin driving away from officers who had surrounded the vehicle.
Writing for the court Tuesday, Justice Samuel Alito discussed the chase in detail before concluding that "it is beyond serious dispute that Rickard’s flight posed a grave public safety risk, and ... the police acted reasonably in using deadly force to end that risk."
He also rejected the argument that the officers fired too many shots. "Here, during the 10-second span when all the shots were fired, Rickard never abandoned his attempt to flee," Alito said.
The decision applied only to the driver, Alito said, and left open whether a passenger in Allen’s situation could mount a successful case against the officers.
But he said Allen’s presence in the case does not enhance Rickard’s case.
The case is the second in recent years when justices have used video captured by the dashboard cameras in police cruisers to take issue with lower court rulings in favor of complaints that police used excessive force.
The case is Plumhoff v. Rickard, 12-1117.
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