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Supreme Court Will Not Review Qualified Immunity Defense in Texas Police Shooting Claim

— October 31, 2023

The justices declined to hear an appeal alleging that an Arlington, Texas, police officer is entitled to qualified immunity in the shooting death of Tavis Crane.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a Texas police officer’s request to hear an appeal in an excessive force and wrongful death lawsuit.

According to FOX4News, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier determined that a civil lawsuit implicating Arlington Police Officer Craig Roper in the 2017 shooting death of Tavis Crane could proceed.

In its ruling, the appeals panel flatly rejected Roper’s claim that he was entitled to qualified immunity, a common defense invoked by law enforcement personnel and other government employees implicated in civil rights-related claims.

The Dallas Morning News notes that the U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door for a trial, with the justices declining requests for review filed by both Roper and the City of Arlington.

Crane, writes the Morning News, was shot and killed on the night of February 1, 2017. He was driving with three other passengers—a man, a woman, and his toddler—when Arlington Police Cpl. Elise Bowden pulled him over near Spring Lake Drive after Crane’s 2-year-old daughter threw a candy wrapper out of the car window.

Bowden later said that she believed that the wrapper could have been drug paraphernalia.

However, after Bowden and other officers found that Crane had multiple outstanding warrants, they ordered him to step out of the car.

US Supreme Court building; image by Mark Thomas, via
US Supreme Court building; image by Mark Thomas, via

Video released by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office shows Crane reversing his car and backing into Bowden as she ran behind a patrol vehicle. The car then drove forward, running over Bowden, prompting other officers to open fire.

Crane was, apparently, shot and killed by Roper, who had clung onto the car as Crane attempted to accelerate away from the scene.

But Daryl Washington, an attorney for the Crane family, said that the police’s recounting of events cannot be confirmed.

The other occupants in Crane’s car, for instance, said that Roper opened the rear driver’s side door “without warning,” immediately drawing his service weapon and telling everyone inside to put their hands up.

Roper then purportedly climbed into the backseat, put his arm around Crane’s neck, and pointed his service weapon at Crane, telling him that he would kill him if he did not turn the vehicle off.

Washington said that forensic analyses indicate that Roper shot Crane twice before the car was event reversed, with the initial shots causing Crane to lose control of the vehicle—only after which it moved froward, striking and hitting Bowden.

The Dallas Morning News notes that U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman had earlier ruled that Roper should be protected by qualified immunity, a somewhat controversial legal doctrine that asserts that government officials cannot be sued for civil rights violations unless the plaintiff can convincingly argue that the official violated a “clearly established” constitutional right or protection.

However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Pittman’s ruling last year, saying that questions remain as to whether Crane was even resisting arrest.


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