Did Trooper violate the 4th Amendment in Nowata shooting?

trooper violateAn officer-involved shooting in Nowata, Oklahoma has raised questions about the constitutionality of the Trooper’s conduct, and how a recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court might impact the investigation into the shooting.

On June 16, 2014, a trooper with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol shot a fleeing man.  Based on reports, the man possessed a small knife and was running away from the trooper when he was shot four to fives times.  A witness at the scene claimed the decedent did not pose a threat to anyone, and believed the forced used was excessive.

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, ___ S.Ct. ___ (2014), the Supreme Court issued its latest decision about officer-involved shootings and fleeing suspects.  In that case, officers were chasing men in a car who fled in a high speed chase to avoid a traffic stop. The car was stopped briefly when shot at fifteen times by the police before driving away a second time and crashing when the driver and passenger died from gunshot wounds.

The Court concluded that officers did not violate clearly established law when they fired on unarmed suspects fleeing in a vehicle.  The use of a vehicle in the effort to flee constitutes a felony crime, and the conduct itself jeopardized the public and the officers.  Under these circumstances, the Court concluded that it was reasonable for the officers to continue shooting until they perceived an end to the threat.

As applied to the shooting in Nowata, it is unclear that Rickard will readily apply because there was no car involved, and there does not appear to be any obvious threat to public safety that would justify the need to shoot the suspect.

Additionally, it is not clear from reports what crime the decedent was suspected of committing.  There is a substantial difference in the threat posed by someone suspected of public intoxication versus a person who just committed armed robbery.

If you have questions about excessive force, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.