The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed Judge Leon Holmes’ ruling that Little Rock police officer Dennis Hutchins wasn’t qualified for immunity from lawsuit in the 2016 fatal shooting of Roy Lee Richards Jr.
Hutchins had been scheduled for trial last year, but the case was postponed as Hutchins’ challenged the judge’s ruling that he wasn’t entitled to qualified immunity. The judge said he was entitled to that only if he shot Richards to protect himself or others. Under the case presented to the court — in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, his sister Vanessa Cole — both Holmes and the 8th Circuit said that wasn’t clearly the case.
Hutchins had been called to a disturbance at the home of Richards’ uncle, Darrell Underwood. Richards was carrying a long weapon. Hutchins fired on Richards, saying he was pursuing Underwood into his house on Eighth Street. Other witnesses gave different versions, including that Richards was walking away from Underwood’s house when he was shot. Hutchins also didn’t issue a warning before shooting, though according to some accounts, several seconds elapsed before he fired.
The 8th Circuit emphasized it was not ruling that Hutchins violated Richards’ rights.
If the factfinder later determines that key facts are not as we must assume them to be—for instance, how Richards held the gun when he was shot, how much time elapsed between when he began to retreat toward his vehicle and when he was shot, whether Richards retreated at all, whether Richards turned away from Underwood’s door at all—the legal conclusions that may be drawn at that time may be different than the ones we draw here. But, based on the facts we are bound to assume, we conclude Officer Hutchins violated Richards’s clearly established Fourth Amendment right to be free from use of deadly force when he did not pose an immediate threat of serious physical harm to others and any such immediate threat he may have posed previously was no longer present when he was shot.