The Supreme Court has made many decisions about police conduct but very few have had the impact on all of law enforcement as that of Tennessee vs. Garner. This landmark case has set very clear lines as when an officer of the law may use deadly force on a fleeing suspect.
At about 10:45 p. m. on October 3, 1974, Officers of the Memphis Police Department, Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright responded to a "prowler inside call" (FindLaw.com). After arriving at the scene, they saw a woman standing on her porch and motioning toward the house next door. She said that she had heard the sound of glass being shattered and that "they" or "someone" was breaking in the house next door. While Wright radioed the dispatcher saying they were at the scene, Hymon went behind the house. He heard a slamming door and saw someone running across the backyard. The fleeing suspect, Edward Garner, stopped at a 6-feet-high chain link fence ( Justia & Oyez & Forms WorkFlow ). Being able to see Garner's face and hands, He saw no sign of a weapon and though not certain, was "reasonably sure" and "figured" that Garner was unarmed. Hymon thought Garner was near the age 17 or 18 and around 5'5" to 5'7" tall. While Garner crouched at the base of the fence, Hymon identified himself and issued a command to halt taking a few steps toward the suspect. Garner then attempted to climb the fence. Believing that if Garner made it over the fence he would escape capture, Hymon shot him. The bullet hit Garner in the back of the head. Garner was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died on the operating table. Ten dollars and a purse taken from the house were found on his body (Biers).
By using lethal force to prevent the escape, Hymon was acting under the authority of a Tennessee statute and pursuant to Police Department policy. The statute provides that if, after notice of the intention to arrest the defendant, he either flee or forcibly resist, the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the...
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