Family of fleeing motorist cannot sue officer who fatally shot him
Ferndale police officer Lowell Phillips shot and killed Laszlo Latits after a motor vehicle chase. Officers made a routine stop of Latits and alleged that they observed marijuana in his glove box. He drove off and was eventually cornered in a parking lot for the State Fair Grounds. When he attempted to back away from Phillips, who was approaching with his gun drawn, Phillips shot four times, striking Latits with three bullets. He died in the hospital and his family sued Phillips alleging the use of excessive force.
Phillips argued that he feared for his own safety and for the safety of the other pursuing officers, and asked the Court to summarily dismiss the family's claim. The trial judge declined, holding that the facts created a question of fact for the jury with regard to whether Phillips' actions were justified under the law. No other officers fired at Latits, and although Phillips claimed that he fired only four times, seven shell casings tied to his weapon were found at the scene.
Relying on inadmissible police report evidence, the Court (including Judge Henry Saad, who always finds a basis to vote against injury claimants and in favor of corporate, government and insurance defendants) reversed the trial judge and ordered the family's case summarily dismissed. It ruled that even if the officer was mistaken about his right to use deadly force to arrest Latits, Phillips was not guilty of an assault and battery. Therefore, the appeals court decided, Phillips was immune from liability for the damage he had caused and his actions could not be described as "gross negligence."