Court says officer has immunity in shooting suit

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit-area police officer who killed a motorist with three shots violated the man’s constitutional rights but still has immunity in a lawsuit over deadly force, a federal appeals court said.

In a 2-1 decision last week, the court said nothing appeared to justify the conduct of Ferndale officer Lowell Phillips at the end of a chase in 2010. Nonetheless, the court said a lawsuit by Laszlo Latits’ family must end.

The court said there was no case law, or legal precedent, at the time of the shooting that would help Latits’ family overcome governmental immunity in the case.

Latits was stopped by Ferndale police for a wrong turn. He subsequently drove off after officers suspected there were drugs in the car.

The chase eventually ended with police cars on three sides of Latits’ vehicle. With no one behind him, he slowly moved his car in reverse. Phillips then shot Latits, striking him with three bullets.

Latits “showed a persistent intent to flee but not an intent to injure, and never placed the public or the officers at imminent risk. ... The shooting was not objectively reasonable,” said judges Jane Stranch and Timothy Black.

But the lawsuit won’t go forward. The court said there was no legal precedent in 2010 that fits the facts of the case and would benefit the slain man’s family.

In a partial dissent, Judge Eric Clay said Phillips “needlessly cost a person his life” and doesn’t deserve immunity. He said there’s plenty of legal precedent.

“The majority has created a nearly impenetrable barrier for plaintiffs seeking to vindicate their rights against governmental officials,” Clay said.