Stewart v. City of Euclid, No. 18-3767 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Euclid Officers Rhodes and Catalani were dispatched to check on a “suspicious” vehicle in a residential area near a school. Stewart was sleeping in the car. Catalani shined his flashlight through the windows and saw indications of marijuana and alcohol. The officers did not turn on their dashboard camera, belt microphones, nor their vehicle’s overhead lights. Stewart woke up and started the car. Neither officer announced himself as a police officer. The officers attempted to remove Stewart from the car; Rhodes got into the car. Stewart drove away within the speed limit. Rhodes attempted to gain control of the gearshift and the keys while striking Stewart in the head. Rhodes eventually deployed his taser and pulled the trigger six times. The car came to a stop. Rhodes did not try to leave the car. Stewart then continued driving. When the car stopped, Rhodes fired two shots into Stewart’s torso. According to Rhodes, Stewart attempted to “punch” him. Rhodes shot Stewart three additional times. Stewart died from his wounds; 59 seconds elapsed from the time Catalani advised dispatch that Stewart was fleeing to the time he reported shots fired.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 as barred by qualified immunity but reversed the dismissal of state law claims. Regardless of whether a constitutional violation occurred, the contours of the right were not clearly established in these circumstances. Few cases have ever considered the danger faced by an officer inside a fleeing suspect’s vehicle and at what point it justifies the use of deadly force. Violation of Stewart's rights cannot be the “known or obvious consequence” disregarded by the city through its training program. Statutory immunity under Ohio law is distinct from federal qualified immunity.