U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Orange County Excessive Force Case Revived

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, this video is worth at least 1 million.

Warning. This video contains graphic content and may not be suitable for some audiences. If you watch the video, the question is whether the officer used excessive force.

According to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it is a question for a jury. That's if the case gets that far.

Shooting

In Zion v. County of Orange, officer Michael Higgins is captured on video killing a criminal suspect. Connor Zion had just stabbed another officer in the arms and fled.

Higgins shot nine times, and the suspect fell to the ground. Higgins approached within four feet, and shot him nine more times.

Judge Alex Kozinski, reviewing the appeal from summary judgment, said a jury will have to decide whether the shooting was excessive. What happened next, however, left no question.

After emptying his gun, Higgins backed away from Zion. Then he took a flying leap and stomped on the man's head. Four times.

Head-Stomping

"This is exactly the kind of 'brutal' conduct the Due Process Clause protects against," Kozinski wrote for the unanimous panel. "Like forced stomach-pumping, head-stomping a suspect curled up in the fetal position 'is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities.'"

The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the trial court's rulings against the plaintiff, who filed the case on behalf of her son. The appeals court affirmed a municipal liability claim because the plaintiff agreed it lacked merit.

The judges also unsealed the police videos, and awarded the plaintiff costs for the appeal. She is seeking $25 million in the wrongful death suit.

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