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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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