After a man called Connor Zion experienced several seizures, he became disoriented and attacked some of his family members, who called the police. Orange County, California Deputy Michael Higgins arrived, shot Zion nine times, approached Zion’s motionless body, fired nine more shots into him at point-blank range, then, after a running start, stomped on Zion’s head three times.
A lower court gave Higgins immunity for the murder on the grounds that he was a police officer worried about a threat to his life. The Ninth Circuit reviewed the dashcam footage of Higgins murdering Zion and concluded that he had lied, and stripped him of his immunity. Higgins’s case has been sent back to the lower court.
Terminating at threat doesn’t necessarily mean terminating the suspect. If the suspect is on the ground and appears wounded, he may no longer pose a threat; a reasonable officer would reassess the situation rather than continue shooting. This is particularly true when the suspect wields a knife rather than a firearm.
With that, the Ninth Circuit sends the case back to the district court, overturning its summary judgment in favor of Officer Higgins. It also points out the plaintiff is entitled to recover her costs for the appeal. And, importantly, it unseals the two videos it relied on to reach its conclusions, so the public can draw its own conclusions about the incident in question in light of the officer’s misleading statements.