A U.S. appeals court on Friday ruled that federal law enforcement officers cannot be sued for shooting a black 16-year-old four times in 2007 as he attempted to drive away from them after the officers had asked to speak to him.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the three deputy U.S. marshals had sufficient justification to use deadly force when they fired on Michael Fenwick.
The ruling comes at a time when law enforcement's use of deadly force has been widely debated in the aftermath of the shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer last August.
In the January 2007 incident in Washington, Fenwick drove away from the officers after they had asked to speak to him. The officers, Andrew Pudimott, Jeremy Fischer and John Mickle, ordered Fenwick to stop. He ignored them, and clipped Pudimott with the side mirror of the car as he drove past.
The officers then opened fire, hitting Fenwick four times. He recovered from the injuries.
Fenwick filed a civil lawsuit against the officers after he was convicted in criminal court of armed assault on Pudimott. The weapon Fenwick was convicted of using was the car itself.
In Friday's ruling, the three-judge panel held that Fenwick had not shown that the officers had violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
Judge David Tatel said the evidence cited by the officers that Fenwick was driving recklessly and that the officers were concerned he could endanger members of the public showed that there was not a clearly established constitutional violation.
But Tatel noted that the ruling should not be broadly applied to "shield from liability every law enforcement officer ... who fires on a fleeing motorist out of asserted concern for other officers and bystanders."
Fenwick's attorney, David Shurtz, said in an interview that the appeals court declined to consider video showing evidence indicating the officers opened fire "when they were in no fear of bodily harm."
The case is Fenwick v. Pudimott, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 13-5130.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)