A rap career can lead to a hard knock life; just look aspiring California rapper Almighty Aziz, the victim of a fatal shooting by Santa Clara Police.
Almighty Aziz, (given name: Aziz James), flipped out at a party in 2008 and stabbed several fellow revelers before crashing through a window into a stranger's house and holing up inside.
Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, in light of the circumstances, police were justified in the use of deadly force against James after he stabbed a canine officer and leaned toward the remaining officers with a knife. The court ruled that James's actions instantly escalated the situation into a potentially deadly encounter.
Aziz James's mother, Insook Kim, sued the City of Santa Clara individually and as a successor in interest to James, claimed that the police used excessive force by releasing the dog in the first place. Judge Wallace Tashima, the lone dissenter, agreed with Kim, writing in his dissent that he would reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment. Judge Tashima claimed that the dog attack was an unreasonable use of force because James did not pose an immediate threat while barricaded inside a room.
Kim also lost her medical indifference claim at summary judgment. Kim claimed that the police should have known by James's actions that he needed medical attention, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the record did not support her assertion.
It's not unusual for police shooting victims' survivors to file excessive force claims, but the claims are difficult to win. Police officers are granted considerable discretion in determining what circumstances necessitate the use of force, and they are generally insulated from tort claims through qualified immunity. If you collect a contingency fee instead of billing hourly, you should consider diversifying your caseload; too many lawsuits against government entities could leave you hard-pressed to pay your office rent.
- Kim v. City of Santa Clara (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Uneasy Rider: Cop Denied Qualified Immunity in Motorcycle Death (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit blog)
- Santa Clara police vindicated in fatal shooting (San Francisco Chronicle)
- No Qualified Immunity in Traffic Misdemeanor Warrantless Search (FindLaw's Tenth Circuit blog)
- Police Investigations of the Use of Deadly Force Can Influence Perceptions and Outcomes (FBI Bulletin)