U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS rules for officer who kicked in gate in pursuit of man who ignored his order to stop

An officer who kicked in a gate to pursue a man who ignored his order to stop was entitled to qualified immunity in a suit by the injured homeowner who was standing behind the gate, the U.S. Supreme Court has concluded.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in a summary reversal of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the time that the officer, Mike Stanton, made his split-second decision to enter the yard in La Mesa, Calif., it was not clearly illegal to pursue the man, the Supreme Court said in its decision (PDF). Stanton believed the suspect had committed a misdemeanor, punishable by a jail sentence, by ignoring his stop order.

The incident occurred in May 2008 when Stanton and his partner were investigating a complaint of a disturbance involving a man with a baseball bat. A suspect ignored Stanton’s order to stop and entered the gate of a yard surrounded by a tall wooden fence, closing the gate behind him. In pursuit, Stanton kicked open the gate, injuring the nearby homeowner who claimed the officer had unreasonably searched her home in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The suspect was not charged with a crime.

“Federal and state courts nationwide are sharply divided on the question whether an officer with probable cause to arrest a suspect for a misdemeanor may enter a home without a warrant while in hot pursuit of that suspect,” the Supreme Court said, yet the 9th Circuit found Stanton violated a clear constitutional rule. The cases relied on by the 9th Circuit panel did not clearly establish a Fourth Amendment violation, the court said.

The Los Angeles Times and Courthouse News Service have stories on the decision, Stanton v. Sims.

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