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White v. Pauly

United States Supreme Court

January 9, 2017



          PER CURIAM.

         This case addresses the situation of an officer who- having arrived late at an ongoing police action and having witnessed shots being fired by one of several individuals in a house surrounded by other officers-shoots and kills an armed occupant of the house without first giving a warning.

         According to the District Court and the Court of Appeals, the record, when viewed in the light most favorable to respondents, shows the following. Respondent Daniel Pauly was involved in a road-rage incident on a highway near Santa Fe, New Mexico. 814 F.3d 1060, 1064-1065 (CA10 2016). It was in the evening, and it was raining. The two women involved called 911 to report Daniel as a "'drunk driver'" who was "'swerving all crazy.'" Id., at 1065. The women then followed Daniel down the highway, close behind him and with their bright lights on. Daniel, feeling threatened, pulled his truck over at an off-ramp to confront them. After a brief, nonviolent encounter, Daniel drove a short distance to a secluded house where he lived with his brother, Samuel Pauly.

         Sometime between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Officer Kevin Truesdale was dispatched to respond to the women's 911 call. Truesdale, arriving after Daniel had already left the scene, interviewed the two women at the off-ramp. The women told Truesdale that Daniel had been driving recklessly and gave his license plate number to Truesdale. The state police dispatcher identified the plate as being registered to the Pauly brothers' address.

         After the women left, Officer Truesdale was joined at the off-ramp by Officers Ray White and Michael Mariscal. The three agreed there was insufficient probable cause to arrest Daniel. Still, the officers decided to speak with Daniel to (1) get his side of the story, (2) "'make sure nothing else happened, '" and (3) find out if he was intoxicated. Id., at 1065. The officers split up. White stayed at the off-ramp in case Daniel returned. Truesdale and Mariscal drove in separate patrol cars to the Pauly brothers' address, less than a half mile away. Record 215. Neither officer turned on his flashing lights.

         When Officers Mariscal and Truesdale arrived at the address they had received from the dispatcher, they found two different houses, the first with no lights on inside and a second one behind it on a hill. Id., at 217, 246. Lights were on in the second one. The officers parked their cars near the first house. They examined a vehicle parked near that house but did not find Daniel's truck. Id., at 310.

         Officers Mariscal and Truesdale noticed the lights on in the second house and approached it in a covert manner to maintain officer safety. Both used their flashlights in an intermittent manner. Truesdale alone turned on his flashlight once they got close to the house's front door. Upon reaching the house, the officers found Daniel's pickup truck and spotted two men moving around inside the residence. Truesdale and Mariscal radioed White, who left the off-ramp to join them.

         At approximately 11 p.m., the Pauly brothers became aware of the officers' presence and yelled out "'Who are you?'" and "'What do you want?'" 814 F.3d, at 1066. In response, Officers Mariscal and Truesdale laughed and responded: "'Hey, (expletive), we got you surrounded. Come out or we're coming in.'" Ibid. Truesdale shouted once: "'Open the door, State Police, open the door.'" Ibid. Mariscal also yelled: "'Open the door, open the door.'" Ibid.

         The Pauly brothers heard someone yelling, "'We're coming in. We're coming in.'" Ibid. Neither Samuel nor Daniel heard the officers identify themselves as state police. Record 81-82. The brothers armed themselves, Samuel with a handgun and Daniel with a shotgun. One of the brothers yelled at the police officers that '"We have guns.'" 814 F.3d, at 1066. The officers saw someone run to the back of the house, so Officer Truesdale positioned himself behind the house and shouted "'Open the door, come outside.'" Ibid.

         Officer White had parked at the first house and was walking up to its front door when he heard shouting from the second house. He half-jogged, half-walked to the Paulys' house, arriving "just as one of the brothers said: 'We have guns.'" Ibid.; see also Civ. No. 12-1311 (D NM, Feb. 5, 2014), App. to Pet. for Cert. 75-78. When White heard that statement, he drew his gun and took cover behind a stone wall 50 feet from the front of the house. Officer Mariscal took cover behind a pickup truck.

         Just "a few seconds" after the "We have guns" statement, Daniel stepped part way out of the back door and fired two shotgun blasts while screaming loudly. 814 F.3d, at 1066-1067. A few seconds after those shots, Samuel opened the front window and pointed a handgun in Officer White's direction. Officer Mariscal fired immediately at Samuel but missed. "'Four to five seconds'" later, White shot and killed Samuel. Id., at 1067.

         The District Court denied the officers' motions for summary judgment, and the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the Paulys. Mullenix v. Luna, 577 U.S.__, __, n. (2015) (per curiam) (slip op., at 2, n.). Because this case concerns the defense of qualified immunity, however, the Court considers only the facts that were knowable to the defendant officers. Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 576 U.S.__, __(2015) (slip op., at 9).

         Samuel's estate and Daniel filed suit against, inter alia, Officers Mariscal, Truesdale, and White. One of the claims was that the officers were liable under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U.S.C. §1983, for violating Samuel's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. All three officers moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. White in particular argued that the Pauly brothers could not show that White's use of force violated the Fourth Amendment and, regardless, ...

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