Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Key Case

( The Supreme Court decided it won’t hear a case that pertains to a state trooper in New Jersey who shot and killed a man who was mentally ill.

The case in question involves a legal defense that protects police officers from accusations of using excessive force. The situation involved the officer shooting the man, who was pointing a gun at his own head.

The appeal was filed by the mother of Willie Gibbons, the person who was shot and killed. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia ruled in 2020 that Noah Bartelt, a New Jersey State Trooper, had “qualified immunity” after he shot Gibbons twice when he encountered him on the side of the rode in 2011.

In that 2020 ruling, the appeals court said even though Gibbons was pointing the gun at himself, he was “within range to shoot” Bartelt, which gave the officer the right to shoot. Gibbons was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Some government officials and police officers are protected with qualified immunity from some civil litigation in particular situations. The law only permits civil lawsuits when an individual’s “clearly established” constitutional or statutory rights were violated.

While the overall Supreme Court decided not to take up Gibbons’ mother’s appeal, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the court’s liberal justices, dissented. In that dissent, she opined that qualified immunity shouldn’t be able to be used by officers when they don’t act reasonably.

She wrote:

“It does not protect an officer who inflicts deadly force on a person who is only a threat to himself.”

A 2020 report published by Reuters found qualified immunity today makes it easier for police officers to injure or kill civilians with little to no punishment. Part of the reason for this is the continual refinements the Supreme Court has approved to the law.

On the opposite side of the argument are professionals in law enforcement as well as some conservatives. They argue the law is essential if police are to make decisions quickly in what can be dangerous situations. They can’t do so if they’re constantly in fear of being sued for their decision.

In the 2011 incident, police were looking for Gibbons, since he violated a temporary restraining order by appearing at the home of his girlfriend, Angel Stephens, in New Jersey. Stephens had received that restraining order one day earlier, after the pair had gotten into an argument.

Gibbons was walking on the road, and Bartelt came across him. Gibbons then pointed a gun at his own head, refusing to drop it, court papers say. Then, Bartelt shot Gibbons in the chest twice before his weapon ended up jamming. A few hours later, Gibbons died at a hospital.

A civil rights lawsuit was filed by the Gibbons family against Bartelt, the state police, the state of New Jersey and other officers. They were seeking monetary damages as a result of Gibbons’ death.

Bartelt was initially denied qualified immunity in the legal case, but that was overturned by a three-judge panel at the 3rd Circuit.