WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday stepped in to the national conversation on police practices, wrestling with a California police shooting case where sheriff’s deputies shot an innocent couple during their search for a wanted man.
The justices heard oral arguments in a 2010 case involving Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. The deputies were searching for a wanted parolee when they entered a shack at the back of a home in the city of Lancaster, north of Los Angeles. Seeing a man with a gun, they fired. But the man wasn’t the suspect they were searching for and they struck him and his pregnant girlfriend. The gun was a BB gun used by the man to shoot rats and mice, and he was moving it at the time.
Lower courts ruled that the deputies, who didn’t have a warrant, provoked the confrontation, and the couple was awarded $4 million. The man, Angel Mendez, had to have his leg amputated below the knee as a result of the shooting.
During oral arguments Wednesday, the justices crafted a variety of scenarios involving law enforcement officers. They asked lawyers to discuss examples including a plainclothes officer who breaks into a home in the dead of night and officers trying to negotiate with a mentally ill person with a hostage.
Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor at times seemed outraged at the California case.
A lawyer for the deputies and Los Angeles County asked the justices to put themselves in the shoes of the deputies, who believed they were in danger and thought they were going to die.
Chief Justice John Roberts told a lawyer for the couple who was shot that even if the officers had gotten a warrant the shooting would have occurred.
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