Debbie Jean Latits, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Laszlo John Latits, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Lowell Phillips, Police Officer for the City of Ferndale, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:12-cv-14306-Stephen J.
Murphy III, District Judge.
Ernst, ERNST LAW FIRM, Detroit, Michigan, Dean Elliott, DEAN
ELLIOTT, PLC, Royal Oak, Michigan, for Appellant.
Lindsey A. Peck, SEWARD PECK & HENDERSON, Royal Oak,
Michigan, for Appellee.
Before: CLAY and STRANCH, Circuit Judges; BLACK, District
B. STRANCH, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Phillips, then a Ferndale Police Officer, ended a car chase
on the outskirts of Detroit by ramming Laszlo Latits's
car off the road and then shooting and killing Latits as he
tried to resume flight. Latits's widow sued former
Officer Phillips under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that
Phillips's actions violated the Fourth Amendment. The
district court granted summary judgment to Phillips,
concluding that the shooting was reasonable. We determine
that Phillips's use of deadly force was objectively
unreasonable, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Caselaw
existing at the time of the events, however, did not clearly
establish the objective unreasonableness of Phillips's
actions in the circumstances of this case. Phillips is
therefore entitled to qualified immunity and we must AFFIRM.
events of this case were recorded by video cameras mounted on
the dashboards of four separate police cars. Consequently, we
describe the facts "in the light depicted by the
videotape." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381
(2007). Because this appeal arises from the Defendant's
motion for summary judgment, we view any relevant gaps or
uncertainties left by the videos in the light most favorable
to the Plaintiff. See Godawa v. Byrd, 798 F.3d 457,
463 (6th Cir. 2015) (accepting the plaintiff's version of
the facts because they were not "clearly
contradict[ed]" by the video). Facts are also provided
by deposition testimony and other evidence presented in the
midnight on June 24, 2010, Ferndale Police Officer Kenneth
Jaklic stopped Latits for turning the wrong way onto a
divided boulevard. Jaklic approached the car with a
flashlight. Latits produced his driver's license and
opened his glove box to retrieve his registration and
insurance documents. Officer Jaklic testified that inside the
box he saw one or more bags that he suspected to contain
marijuana and a pill bottle, all of which Latits attempted to
move under the passenger seat. Jaklic testified that he then
told Latits to get out of the car. The video recorded by the
officer's dashboard camera shows that Jaklic took out his
gun about eight seconds after walking up to the car, and then
stood at Latits's window shining his flashlight into the
car and pointing the gun at the ground for about thirty
seconds. Officer Jaklic then raised his gun and pointed it at
Latits's head at point-blank range. Latits drove away,
and Jaklic ran back to his police car to pursue him.
Jaklic broadcast that he was pursuing a fleeing vehicle and
other officers headed in that direction to join the chase.
Jaklic announced that he was chasing a suspect for a traffic
violation and possible health code violation, including
"stashing some narcotics underneath his chair."
After fleeing from Jaklic for nearly two minutes (during
which time Latits's car cannot be seen clearly on video),
Latits entered an empty parking lot. Officer Jaklic's car
entered the parking lot and slowly moved into the path of
Latits's car, at which time Latits can be seen steering
away from Jaklic's car to avoid colliding. Officer Jaklic
then broadcast that Latits "tried to ram my
vehicle." Another officer can be heard asking to clarify
whether Latits rammed the patrol car, to which Jaklic
responded: "He tried to." At his deposition,
Officer Jaklic admitted that Latits in fact turned his wheel
and got out of the way to avoid hitting the patrol car.
moment of the near miss of the cars of Latits and Jaklic, the
dashboard camera of the Defendant, Officer Phillips, shows
that the parking lot where Latits was located was just ahead
of Phillips. The district court determined that a reasonable
jury could find from the video that Officer Phillips could
see that Latits did not try to ram Jaklic and therefore knew
that Officer Jaklic's statement otherwise was false.
avoiding Officer Jaklic's car, Latits fled the parking
lot, turning south on to a ten-lane divided highway. Three
officers were now chasing close behind Latits: Officer Andrew
Wurm first, Officer Jaklic second, and Officer Phillips
third. All three had dashboard cameras recording
their perspectives of the chase.
approximately thirty seconds, Latits led the three officers
southbound down the highway at about sixty miles per hour,
passing through two red lights. No pedestrians or other cars
are visible on the nighttime highway except one parked car
two lanes away from Latits. The highway was bounded by a
cemetery on one side and a commercial zone and vacant state
fairgrounds on the other.
next attempted to make a U-turn but partially ran over the
curb of the grassy highway median. Wurm, still the first
officer behind Latits, also attempted to make the U-turn, and
collided with the rear driver's side of Latits's
Officer Wurm then broadcast over the police radio: "Oh,
I just hit him." Officer Phillips was following shortly
behind Officers Wurm and Jaklic, and the district court
determined that a jury could find that Phillips knew that
Wurm's car hit Latits's car. As the cars tried to
reorient on the highway, Officer Wurm again collided with the
rear of Latits's car, at which time an officer
(presumably Wurm) can be heard exclaiming: "Shit!"
Officer Phillips, close behind Wurm and Jaklic, could see
Wurm hit Latits a second time. An officer can then be heard
saying: "This guy's all over the road, he's hit
me several times." The videos, however, show that Latits
had not hit any police cars; rather, he had turned to avoid
hitting Officer Jaklic and had been hit twice by Officer
impacts by Officer Wurm's car apparently caused Latits to
lose control of his car, which swerved to the right and then
back left across three lanes. No pedestrians or cars besides
those of Latits and the officers are visible on the video
during this time. Latits's car then straightened out and
traveled northbound for nearly five seconds. While Latits was
swerving, Officer Phillips sped past Officers Jaklic and Wurm
and, nearly five seconds after Latits's car had
straightened out, Phillips rammed Latits's car from the
back left, pushing it across two lanes of traffic and off the
road. Officer Phillips's ramming caused
Latits's car to spin out onto an area of grass and
concrete to the right.
Latits's car stopped it was parallel and to the right of
Officer Phillips's car. Officer Wurm pulled onto the
grass parallel to the opposite side of Latits's car.
Latits slowly began to drive forward through the opening
between the cars of Phillips and Wurm, while Officer Jaklic
slowly drove towards the same opening from the opposite
direction in an apparent attempt to block it. Latits's
and Jaklic's cars then had a very low-speed head-on
collision. Officer Jaklic testified that he was not injured
and his police car suffered minimal damage to the push bar on
its front end.
about the same time, Officer Phillips jumped out of his car
and ran toward Latits's car from behind it. Phillips was
alongside Latits's front passenger-side door when Latits
started reversing away from Officer Jaklic's
Latits's car can be seen reversing past Officer Phillips
and out of the frame of one dashboard camera with Phillips
following on foot. One second later, Latits's car can be
seen reversing into the frame of Phillips's dashboard
camera, and what is apparently gunshots can be heard.
Latits's car rolls to a stop as Phillips enters the frame
with his gun raised. The dashboard camera of a fourth officer
arriving at the time Latits was shot shows that no cars or
persons were immediately behind Latits as he reversed.
Officer Phillips, following in the same direction in which
Latits was reversing, could see that no one was in
Latits's direct path.
shell casings were recovered from the scene matching Officer
Phillips's gun.Latits was struck by three bullets and died
at the hospital later that morning. The autopsy reported that
the direction of the gunshot wounds to Latits's chest and
abdomen were from the front to back. Less than four minutes
passed from the time Latits first drove away from Officer
Jaklic to the time he was shot by Officer Phillips.
was terminated for his conduct during the pursuit that ended
in the shooting death of Latits. Among the reasons for
Phillips's termination, the Ferndale Chief of Police
cited the following violations of police policy: Phillips
engaged in vehicular pursuit as the third police car without
permission, passed the secondary and primary vehicles in the
pursuit, used a PIT maneuver in violation of a direct order,
and ran up to Latits's car instead of taking a tactical
position using his vehicle as cover.
Plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that
Phillips violated Latits's clearly established Fourth
Amendment rights by using deadly force to terminate the
chase. The district court granted summary judgment to
Phillips, concluding that his use of deadly force was
objectively reasonable. Latits timely appealed.
Standards of Review
review grants of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Godawa, 798 F.3d at 462. To the extent that videos
in the record show facts so clearly that a reasonable jury
could view those facts in only one way, those facts should be
viewed in the light depicted by the videos. See
Harris, 550 U.S. at 380. To the extent that facts shown
in videos can be interpreted in multiple ways or if videos do
not show all relevant facts, such facts should be viewed in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See
Godawa, 798 F.3d at 463. Summary judgment is appropriate
if the materials in the record show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 462.
suit implicates the doctrine of qualified immunity. Public
officials are entitled to qualified immunity from suits for
civil damages if either the official's conduct did not
violate a constitutional right or if that right was not
clearly established at the time of the conduct. Id.
at 462-63. (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,
201-02 (2001)). Courts may consider those two inquiries in
either order. Id. (citing Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)).
Whether a Constitutional ...