Today, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of campus police officer Andrew Kisela, who shot a woman four times as she stood in her driveway in 2010. The woman, Amy Hughes, sued Kisela for using excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Hughes has a history of bipolar disorder, for which she was taking medication at the time of the incident.
In May of 2010, Kisela, a University of Arizona officer, received a 911 call about a woman hacking at a tree with a knife. According to court records, when Kisela and two other officers arrived at Hughes’ off-campus apartment, they found her exiting her home with a large kitchen knife. According to the officers, Hughes approached her roommate, Sharon Chadwick, and stopped about six feet away. The officers yelled at Hughes to drop the knife. When she did not comply, Kisela shot her four times from the other side of a chain link fence.
“Why did you shoot me?” Hughes reportedly screamed.
According to Chadwick, the disagreement was related to a $20 debt. Once Hughes had been treated by paramedics and sent to the hospital, Chadwick informed the officers her roommate had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was on medication, and didn’t entirely understand at the moment what was happening when the officers commanded her to drop the kitchen knife. In later affidavits, Chadwick stated that Hughes appeared “composed” and non-threatening, and that she was holding the knife by her side with the blade facing away from her.
In an unsigned order, the majority of Supreme Court justices wrote that “this is far from an obvious case” and that “Kisela had mere seconds to asses the potential danger to Chadwick.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the “decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later.”
Kisela will still face a civil suit filed by Hughes, as her attorney told the Arizona Daily Star, but the Supreme Court decision further cements blanket immunity for police officers who use potentially lethal force.
According to the Washington Post’s database of police use of force, 277 people have been shot and killed by the police so far in 2018.