On a chilly December evening in 2017, a team of Wichita police surrounded a modest house on West McCormick Street. They were there in response to a reportedly horrific hostage situation: a father shot dead, a mother in danger, and a son threatened to burn everything.
When Andrew Finch opened the door of his house, a sniper rifle killed him in a matter of seconds. Thirty minutes passed before anyone provided emergency assistance. Police handcuffed his mother, sister, niece and two friends for more than an hour in 224-degree weather. But the Finch police were not the boy, nor was he and his family involved in any crisis.
Because there was no crisis. At about 5 p.m.
According to a lawsuit filed by the family, the officers involved failed to do basic work before applying lethal force on innocent people. The lawsuit alleges that officers violated departmental policy by refusing to call a SWAT team, decided not to conduct any investigation despite “obvious warning signs” that the call was a farce, and did not attempt to negotiate with Finch before ending his life, among several other mistakes. .
“Defendant officers … 1033 After encircling West McCormick, they made no attempt to determine if a resident of the home was in a mental health crisis; shot someone; threatened or held at gunpoint; threatened or threatened to burn down the house ; Threatened or suicidal; possessed a firearm; or posed a danger to himself or others, read the case, which was originally filed against Wichita City and officer Justin Rap (who fired the shots) and Benjamin Janakar (who organized the response). Did).
It remains uncertain whether the family will hold anyone accountable.
Isha Anand, an attorney for MacArthur Justice, said: “The police officer’s argument seems to be based on the premise: because they thought a heinous crime had taken place. The center is representing the family.” You can’t just shoot someone at the scene Think They have committed heinous crimes. “
Anand recently made that argument to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, pushing back RAP’s claim that he should be protected by qualified immunity. That legal doctrine allows certain government officials to violate your constitutional rights without having to face a jury in a civil court, unless a previous court instance explicitly declares certain behavior unconstitutional. Exceeding qualified immunity does not guarantee settlement; It only gives victims the right to sue.
Yet it is often a long order to meet with plaintiffs, no matter how questionable the behavior. Consider a related incident: At the age of 78, Henry Norris was arrested when more than two dozen policemen entered his home, smashed his door and planted explosives in his home as part of a drug operation. They had the wrong accommodation. Although Norris survived the conflict, he could not sue the officers who partially demolished his home because he was unable to find a uniform court verdict outlining his experience in a T-shirt.
Last summer, a lower court happily agreed: Rapp is not protected by qualified immunity, and should thus be able to ask a jury for family compensation. He hopes the 10th Circuit will agree. But the U.S. District Court for Kansas District has dismissed the lawsuit against the city, which he hopes will appeal to the appellate panel.
Anand said, “We have seen the most discipline for any officer-involved shooting – in which Wichita herself violated the Fourth Amendment – it was a one-day moratorium.” “Another part of this appeal that is at risk is the notion that municipalities have a responsibility to enforce the constitution and to ensure that their officials follow it.”
To reject the Finch family’s claim against the city, the district court made the bizarre argument: the municipality could not be sued because it said the police department did not have a “pattern of events like the jury’s verdict.” Yet if the city in which they live denies it, how can the officials of any victims be held accountable? The foundation is self-defeating.
Another problem should bother anyone who thinks about maintaining some symbol of limited government. “It gives cities the protection that ordinary citizens never have,” Anand said. “Did the owner of an amusement park notice that something went wrong with them on a ride? You don’t ask if the jury’s verdict tells them that what they did was negligent. You asked what kind of information they had? I guess something was wrong.”
Although police shots at Wichita have rarely made headlines, a few eyebrows have been raised in recent years. These include Marquez Smart, who was mistaken for a police suspect in 2012 and was shot three times in the back while lying on the ground, and Karen Jackson, a suicidal woman who was shot in 2014 while stabbing police. The next case was dismissed by federal court under qualified immunity. The former survived those claims after the town agreed to settle with the family for 900 900,000 last July, nine years after the shooting.
“There is no independent oversight of the investigation by the WPD’s own officials, so the WPD can misjudge the officers without any results,” Finch says in the lawsuit. Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay admits it could be a problem.
If Finch’s family crosses the Tenth Circuit, the city will find more reasons to fix it. “If we say that Wichita is responsible for any of these investigations here or for the complete failure of the disciplinary investigation of these officers. [and] No culture of accountability has been created? Does that mean you have to close the Wichita library? “Joy asks.” The answer is no. Not sure how it’s going to work. And, in any case, that’s not how our accountability system works. We don’t think in that consequentialist terms … when it comes to amusement park owners or general employers. “