Cantu v. City of Dothan, No. 18-15071 (11th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
After Robert Earl Lawrence was shot and killed by a police officer while trying to return a stray dog to an animal shelter, the executor of his estate filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and asserting a state law claim for assault and battery.
The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the officer, holding that, taking the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, a reasonable jury could find that the officer violated Lawrence's clearly established constitutional rights by shooting him. In this case, Lawrence was not committing a dangerous felony, or even a non-dangerous one. Rather, he was just trying to drop off at an animal shelter a stray dog he had found in a parking lot earlier that day. The court explained that the underlying crime for which he was being arrested was, at worst, driving without a license, the maximum punishment for which is a $100 fine; the only flight he engaged in was running around his car on two occasions when he managed to break loose from the officers who were trying to handcuff him; he did resist being handcuffed and arrested, but not violently; while being held by an officer who outweighed him by 75 pounds, another officer tased him at least twice in the abdomen; when he grabbed at the taser in an attempt to avoid being tased again, he and two of the three officers struggled over it, but Lawrence never gained control of it; and, at that point, the officer who had been tasing him let go of the taser, drew her firearm, and fatally shot him without warning, all in the space of three seconds. Therefore, the officer that shot Lawrence is not entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity or based on state agent immunity.