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Mullenix v. Luna

Justia Summary

Sergeant Baker, with a warrant, approached Leija’s car at a restaurant and stated that he was under arrest. Leija sped onto I-27. Leija led Baker and Texas Trooper Rodriguez on an 18-minute chase at 85-110 mph. Leija twice called dispatch, claiming to have a gun and threatening to shoot the officers. The dispatcher broadcast Leija’s threats and a report that Leija might be intoxicated. Officer Ducheneaux, who was trained in using tire spike strips, manned a spike strip beneath an overpass. Trooper Mullenix drove to that overpass, where he radioed a plan to shoot and disable the car. Rodriguez responded “10– 4.” Mullenix asked the dispatcher to inform his supervisor, Byrd, of his plan Before receiving a response, Mullenix took a shooting position. Byrd responded to “see if the spikes work first.” Whether Mullenix heard the response is disputed. Deputy Shipman informed Mullenix that another officer was beneath the overpass. Approximately three minutes after Mullenix took his position, he spotted Leija’s vehicle and fired six shots. Leija’s car engaged the spikes, hit the median, and rolled. Leija was killed by Mullenix’s shots. Apparently, no shots hit the radiator, hood, or engine block. Leija’s estate sued Mullenix under 42 U. S. C. 1983. Mullenix unsuccessfully sought summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that immediacy of risk was a disputed fact. The Supreme Court reversed on the qualified immunity question, declining to address whether there was a Fourth Amendment violation. Mullenix confronted a reportedly intoxicated fugitive, set on avoiding capture through high-speed vehicular flight, who twice had threatened to shoot police officers, and who was moments away from encountering an officer; whatever the wisdom of Mullenix’s choice, Supreme Court precedents do not indicate that he “beyond debate” acted unreasonably.

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