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Supreme Court Lets Lawsuit Against Newport Beach, CA, Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Man Continue

— May 21, 2019

The High Court’s refusal means Newport Beach officers’ use of force may be judged by a jury.

The Supreme Court closed shut down an appeal from the city of Newport Beach, which is being sued for the police killing of a mentally ill man who charged officers with a pair of scissors.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Monday decision will let litigation field by the parents of Gerritt Vos moved forward.

Vos, a 22-year-old San Clemente man, was involved in a minor altercation with a store clerk when police arrived. Law enforcement reports say that Vos rushed officers while wielding a “sharp metal instrument.” He was shot in response and died from his injuries shortly afterward.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirms a 2-1 decision by the 9th Circuit Court, which said a determination of whether police faced an “immediate threat” should be decided by a jury. Furthermore, notes the Times, the 9th Circuit’s panel recommended that a prospective jury consider whether cops should’ve exercised greater caution when approaching a mentally ill man.

According to the 9th Circuit Court and the Times’ recap of its finding, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that public agencies accommodate persons with mental and physical handicaps—and that such accommodations apply to arrests.

Newport Beach, in Southern California’s Orange County, sought to have the suit dismissed by citing precedent.

Five years ago, notes the L.A. Times, the 9th Circuit let a lawsuit filed by a mentally ill woman against San Francisco police proceed. Like Vos, that woman was shot by cops for brandishing a knife—in the kitchen of a group home.

Image via Maxpixel. (CCA-BY-0.0).

However, the 9th Circuit Court dismissed most of the complaint without commenting on the applicability of the Americans With Disabilities Act to the attempted arrest.

But Newport Beach’s appeal was blocked by the Supreme Court, which issued a short, sentence-long statement declining to hear the case.

The Times’ provides a quick summary of the encounter between Vos and police. Officers were called to a 7-11 in Newport Beach following reports of an agitated, angry man brandishing a pair of scissors. He’d allegedly cut a man’s hand; bystanders said he may have been under the influence of drugs.

While customers and a clerk escaped the store, eight officers took up position outside. Most were unarmed but two had AR-15 rifles.

When Vos came running out of the store, he was shot four times. An autopsy confirmed that he had methamphetamine in his system, but his medical history indicated he’d also been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Vos’s parents later filed a $25 million suit against the city, saying Newport Beach officers should’ve tried de-escalating the situation before firing their weapons.

A federal district judge sided with the city and dismissed the suit, but the 9th Circuit Court revived its claims against the individual officers named in the complaint.

“Here the facts are such that a reasonable jury could conclude that Vos was not an immediate threat to the officers,” the panel said in its 2-1 decision. Law enforcement “had surrounded the front door to the 7-Eleven, had established positions behind the cover of their police vehicles and outnumbered Vos eight to one. […] They did not believe he had a gun, and the officers had less lethal methods available to stop Vos from charging.”

The dissenting judge—somewhat predictably—made the all-too-common argument that the shooting was justified because police have only “seconds” to react to potentially life-threatening situations.


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