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Fatal police shooting may constitute illegal seizure

After being offered a ride home, Rebecca Rodriguez was a passenger in a vehicle operated by Michael Murray when Murray attempted to avoid police because he had been drinking alcohol and drinking would violate his parole terms.  Murray maneuvered his vehicle through alleys and driveways in an attempt to avoid the parked cruiser, however the officers observed his suspicious behavior and came to his darkened, parked car to investigate.   When Murray attempted to drive away--at slow speed--Shiawassee County Deputy Tom Passinault began firing and unloaded his weapon [12 shots] into Murray's vehicle.  From the back.  Murray  was struck three times with the fatal wound entering from the rear.  Rodriguez was injured and filed a claim against Passinault for using excessive force to effect an arrest.

The trial court dismissed Rodriguez's claim, holding that Passinault was entitled to qualified immunity from an illegal "seizure" or excessive force claim, because he feared for the safety of his partner or himself.  After reviewing the pathology evidence, the evidence from Passinault's partner (he was not endangered or in the vicinity of the Murray vehicle) and the evidence from Rodriguez, however, the Sixth Circuit held that Rodriguez had raised a material question of fact regarding Passinault's justification for using deadly force.   Since Passinault was in no apparent danger and had only witnessed a minor traffic violation, there was a serious question of fact with regard to his right to immunity.  On that basis, the case was returned to the lower court for trial.  The Court also rejected Passinault's claim that he had not illegally "seized" the innocent passenger Rodriguez by his actions.
Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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