Cleamtee GARNER, et al.
471 U.S. 1, 105 S. Ct 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1
Argued Oct. 30, 1984
Decided March 27, 1985
A case in which the court ruled that a Tennessee “fleeing felon” law was unconstitutional because it legalize the use of deadly force by police when a suspect poses no immediate threat to the police or others. The court ruled that the use of deadly force was a Fourth Amendment seizure issue subject to a finding of “ reasonableness.”
Father, whose unarmed son was shot by police officer as son was fleeing from the burglary of an unoccupied house, brought wrongful death action under the federal civil right statute against the police officer who fired the shot, the police department and others. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Harry W. Wellford, J., after remand, rendered judgement for defendant, and father appealed. The Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit, and remanded. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court held that: apprehension by use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement; deadly force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others; Tennessee statute under authority of which police officer fired fatal shot was unconstitutional because it authorized use of deadly force against apparently unarmed, non dangerous fleeing suspect; the fact that unarmed suspect had broken into a dwelling at night did not automatically mean that he was dangerous.
At about 10:45 p.m. on October 3, 1974, Memphis Police Officers Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright were dispatched to answer a prowler inside call. The fleeing suspect, who was appellee-respondent’s decedent, Edward Garner, stopped at a 6-feet-high chain link fence at the edge of he yard. With the aid of a flashlight, Hymon was able to see Garner’s face and hands. He saw no sign of weapon, and, though not certain, was reasonably sure and figured that Garner was unarmed, He thought Garner was 17 or 18 years of age and about 5’5’’ or 5’7’’ tall. While Garner was crouched at the fence, Hymon called out Police! and took a few steps toward him. Garner then began to climb over the fence. Convinced that if Garner made it over the fence he would ran away, Hymon shot him. The bullet hit Garner in the back of the head. Garner was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounce dead on the operating table. Ten dollars and a purse taken from the house were found on his body.
In using deadly 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 necessary means to affect the arrest.” The District Court concluded that Hymon’s action were authorized by the Tennessee statute, which in turn was constitutional. Hymon had employed the only reasonable and practicable means of preventing Garner’s escape. Garner had recklessly and unmindfully attempted to jump over the fence to escape, thereby assuming the responsibility to be risk of being fired upon.
The Court of Appeals for Six Circuit affirmed with regard to Hymon, finding that he had acted in good-faith according to the Tennessee statute and was therefore within the scope of his qualified immunity. It remanded for reconsideration of the possible liability of the city, however. Justice White then delivered the opinion of the by saying “ This case requires us to determine the constitutionality of the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of an apparently unarmed suspected felon. We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is deemed necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a...
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