In her dissent of the Supreme Court's decision today to dismiss a case concerning the death of Israel Leija, Jr., Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized her colleagues for sanctioning a "shoot first, think later approach to policing."
Leija was shot to death in 2010 during a high-speed police chase on I-27 in Texas. According to NBC News, the chase began after a local officer tried to arrest Leija on an outstanding warrant at a fast food restaurant. During the 18-minute-long chase, Leija twice called police dispatch to warn he was armed and willing to shoot if the chase wasn't called off.
Police laid spike strips at three spots along the highway in an attempt to disable Leija's car. Despite orders from a superior to stand by until Leija reached the spike strips, State Trooper Chadrin Mullenix fired 6 shots from an overpass at the speeding car. At least 4 of these shots fatally hit Leija; none hit the car's engine block.
"[I]t was clearly established under the Fourth Amendment," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, "that an officer in Mullenix's position should not have fired the shots."
"Mullenix took his shot when Leija was between 25 and 30 yards away from the spike strip, traveling at 85 miles per hour," Sotomayor explained. "Even if his shots hit Leija’s engine block, the car would not have stopped instantly."
After the shooting Mullenix said to his superior officer, "How's that for proactive?" And though "the comment does not impact our legal analysis," Sotomayor said, "[T]he comment seems to me revealing of the culture this court’s decision supports when it calls it reasonable — or even reasonably reasonable — to use deadly force for no discernible gain and over a supervisor’s express order to 'stand by.'"
The Court's decision could play a substantial role in shaping the way police misconduct cases are tried in the future.
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