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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that defendant police officer is entitled to qualified immunity in civil rights lawsuit alleging he used excessive force in accidental shooting of 10-year-old child

On July 10, 2019, in Corbitt v. Vickers, No. 17-15566, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court ruling denying a defendant police officer qualified immunity in a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  The Georgia police officer was involved in an operation to apprehend a criminal suspect which spilled over into the yard of a family whom had no known connection to the suspect.  One adult and six minor children, including the 10-year-old injured party, were in the yard and were ordered at gunpoint to lie on the ground.  The defendant officer then allegedly fired his weapon twice at the family dog,  without any immediate threat or cause, accidentally hitting the 10-year-old in the leg with the second shot.  The Eleventh Circuit panel concluded that a Fourth Amendment seizure had taken place, but that the officer’s second shot at the dog did not violate any of the child’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights because it is not settled law that an accidental act can give rise to a Fourth Amendment violation.   In support of this conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit compared Dodd v. City of Norwich, 827 F.2d 1, 7 (2d Cir. 1987) (refusing to apply reasonableness standard to accidental shooting), and Schultz v. Braga, 455 F.3d 470, 479–483 (4th Cir. 2006) (focusing primarily on officer’s lack on intent to shoot bystander in rejecting Fourth Amendment claim), with Pleasant v. Zamieski, 895 F.2d 272, 276–77 (6th Cir. 1990) (examining reasonableness even though shooting was accidental) and Roach v. City of Fredericktown, 882 F.2d 294, 296–97 (8th Cir. 1989) (rejecting Fourth Amendment excessive force claim brought by passengers of oncoming car injured as a result of high speed police chase but only after determining that officer’s use of high speed chase was reasonable under the circumstances).  In dissent, Judge Wilson noted that the Eleventh Circuit has  previously determined that an accidental act can give rise to a Fourth Amendment violation.  See Mercado v. City of Orlando, 407 F.3d 1152, 1159 (11th Cir. 2005) (plaintiff suffered brain damage after police officer accidentally shot him in the head with a stun projectile).