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7th Circuit grants summary judgment to IMPD officer who fatally shot agitated man

March 9, 2018

The Indiana Southern District Court must enter judgment in favor of an Indianapolis police officer who fatally shot a man while on duty after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined the officer acted reasonably and is entitled to qualified immunity.

In January 2014, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, including James Gray, responded to a call about a man, Keith Koster, vomiting and having trouble breathing. The officers were given keys to Koster’s apartment, but when they entered the unit Koster began shouting for them to go away.

Despite reassurances that the officers were there to help, Koster, who was holding a gun, threatened to shoot them if they entered his apartment. A hostage negotiator then arrived and tried to convince Koster to put down the gun, but he refused and eventually threatened to fire a warning shot.

According to the Gray’s testimony, Koster then extended his arm and pointed the gun at the officers, so Gray fired three shots at his head, two of which struck and killed him. After Koster’s death, his sister, Dawne Sanzone, filed Fourth Amendment excessive force claims against several of the officers present at the shooting, including Gray.

Each defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that they were entitled to qualified immunity, and Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted those motions as to the other defendants. But in Gray’s case, she determined he was not entitled to qualified immunity, finding he “used greater force than was reasonable because he did not take cover or wait for the less-lethal option before shooting.”

The 7th Circuit, however, found Thursday in Dawne A. Sanzone v. James Gray, 17-2103, that Gray did not violate Koster’s Fourth Amendment rights considering Koster’s threat of a warning shot and his action of pointing his gun at the officers. Thus, he was entitled to qualified immunity.

“Gray did not need to wait and hope that Koster was a skilled marksman before taking action to shut down Koster’s threat,” the panel – including Notre Dame professor and now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett – wrote in a per curiam opinion. “Indeed, these circumstances place this case handily among others in which the court has sanctioned the use of deadly force.”

The appellate panel reversed the denial of Gray’s summary judgment motion and remanded the case back to the district court for entry of judgment in his favor.

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