Kisela v. Hughes

Justia Summary

Kisela, a Tucson police officer, shot Hughes less than a minute after arriving, with other officers, at the scene where a woman had been reported to 911 as hacking a tree with a knife and acting erratically. When Kisela fired, Hughes was holding a large kitchen knife, had taken steps toward nearby woman (her roommate), and had refused to drop the knife after at least two commands to do so. Hughes matched the description given by the 911 caller. Her injuries were not life-threatening. All of the officers later said that they subjectively believed Hughes was a threat to her roommate. Hughes had a history of mental illness. Her roommate said that she did not feel endangered. Hughes sued Kisela, alleging excessive force, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, reversing the Ninth Circuit. Even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation occurred, which “is not at all evident,” Kisela was entitled to qualified immunity. Although the officers were in no apparent danger, Kisela believed Hughes was a threat to her roommate. Kisela had mere seconds to assess the potential danger and was separated from the women by a chain-link fence. This is "far from an obvious case" in which any competent officer would have known that shooting Hughes would violate the Fourth Amendment; the most analogous Ninth Circuit precedent favors Kisela. A reasonable officer is not required to foresee judicial decisions that do not yet exist in instances where the requirements of the Fourth Amendment are far from obvious.