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Judge: Officer is entitled to qualified immunity

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A federal judge ruled in favor of a defendant police officer in a suit alleging he conducted a warrantless and unreasonable search of a home to find a gun mentioned in a 911 call.

In Robert Butler v. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Dept., et al., No. 1:07-CV-1103, U.S. District Chief Judge David Hamilton in the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, found Tuesday that Deputy Glenn Schmidt was entitled to qualified immunity on Robert Butler's claim the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights by entering his home.

Schmidt, then a deputy with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, which merged with the Indianapolis Police Department to form IMPD, responded to a 911 call to Butler's home that shots had been fired. Butler's girlfriend, McKenna Decker, called police to report Butler shot at her car while at his house.

Butler told Schmidt he shot his gun near Decker's car, but the gun was now inside. Schmidt went inside the home and got the gun. Butler entered a plea agreement, but for unknown reasons, the plea wasn't entered and the prosecutor eventually dismissed all of the charges.

Butler claimed the police department and officers who arrived on the scene deprived him of his constitutional rights. Chief Judge Hamilton agreed with Schmidt that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Butler's search and seizure claim. Schmidt argued that even if he had violated Butler's right by entering his home without a warrant, a reasonable law enforcement officer wouldn't have understood that this act would have violated his constitutional rights under the circumstances.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.

"On the merits, there is certainly room to argue here about whether the danger posed by the loaded gun in the unoccupied home posed a threat of imminent injury," wrote the chief judge. "In the quiet calm of a courtroom years later, it might be easy to say that it did not."

But Schmidt faced an ambiguous and potentially explosive situation and acted swiftly and with minimal intrusion to control the greatest source of danger, Chief Judge Hamilton continued.

The District Court also found Schmidt had probable cause to arrest Butler for criminal recklessness. Summary judgment was also entered in favor of IMPD and the two other officers who responded because the facts are insufficient to support under any of Butler's theories that his constitutional rights were violated.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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