CommunityThe Dissenter

Federal Appeals Court Affirms Persons Threatening Suicide Have Right to Not Be ‘Shot on Sight’ By Police

A federal appeals court affirmed that a person threatening to commit suicide has a constitutional right to not be “shot on sight” if that person is not putting anyone else in “imminent danger” or resisting arrest for a “serious crime.”

Jerome Weinmann threatened to kill himself in his garage on November 12, 2007. His wife, Susan, called 911 and told the dispatcher that McClone had “access to a long gun.” An officer from the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department in Wisconsin was dispatched to respond to her call.

Only a few minutes after arriving at the home, Deputy Patrick McClone decided it was necessary to force his way into the garage. He could not see Jerome through the two windows he chose to use. Without using other windows and before attempting to talk to Jerome, he kicked in a door to the garage because he thought he heard noises that suggested Jerome was in the act of committing suicide.

McClone fired his weapon and shot Jerome four times in his face, thumb and torso. These injuries, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, “required extensive medical treatment including partial amputation of his thumb and a total replacement of his jaw’s left temporomandibular joint.”

Jerome had a .12 gauge shotgun in his lap but maintains that he never pointed it at the officer. McClone asserts the weapon was pointed at him and he was in danger, which gave him the right to shoot Jerome. He appealed a ruling by a federal district court that refused to dismiss an “excessive force” claim filed by Jerome against him.

In order to convince the court to dismiss the lawsuit, McClone had to show that the facts according to Jerome did not demonstrate that his rights were somehow violated.

McClone argued this was an “inherently dangerous encounter” because he had entered an “enclosed garage with a single entrance.” If the Seventh Circuit accepted this argument, the court claimed it would be “saying that officers are entitled, when responding to a suicide call, to use deadly force any time they forcibly enter a single-entrance room.”

“We are aware of no ruling that permits this sort of shoot-on-sight response to this class of encounters,” the appeals court declared [PDF].

The appeals court also stated, “McClone did not look through the other windows into the garage to see what Jerome was doing, nor did he try to talk to him. Instead, within three minutes of arriving at the scene, McClone opened fire. Either viewed as so plainly excessive that no analogous case is needed, or viewed in light of existing authority, this was an excessive use of force.”

The police officer accused of violating Jerome’s constitutional rights highlighted cases where an officer had been threatened by a suspect in some way. But the court insisted those examples were not similar to this case.

Acknowledging the disputed facts, the Seventh Circuit concluded that McClone had known “four things.” McClone knew that Jerome had “access to a firearm and maybe ammunition.” He knew that he was responding to a 911 call suggesting Jerome was “suicidal.” He knew that Jerome did not want to talk to the 911 dispatcher. He knew there were sounds from inside the garage. He undeerstood that Jerome had instructed the dispatcher to have the officer leave his home.

When viewing the facts most favorable to Jerome, there is no evidence that Jerome at any point wanted to hurt the police officer, and no justification for the officer’s “instant use of deadly force.”

“It does not matter for purposes of the Fourth Amendment that McClone subjectively believed that his life was in danger,” the Seventh Circuit concluded. “The test is an objective one, and taking the facts as Jerome presents them, it is not met,” which means a case against McClone can be pursued.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo of Dirksen Federal Building in Illinois where 7th Circuit Appeals Court is located. By Ken Lund

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

  • Miranda Keefe

    I’m starting to think that the wisest thing to do when you have problems is NOT call the police.

  • dubinsky

    the cops don’t need you and, ma’am, they expect the same.

  • ThingsComeUndone

    Why do we have to state the obvious to the police you don’t save a village by burning it down you don’t stop someone from committing suicide by shooting them. The police dept needs to screen cops better this cop wanted to use his gun, he wanted to play cops and robbers, he saw to many cop tv shows and hollywood action movies.

  • ThingsComeUndone

    The younger the more irresponsible the child the more you have to watch them constantly and tell them no even about the what should be obvious stuff.
    As a society we should not have to tell the police shooting at suicidal people is counter productive we expect police to be smarter than that, to be trained for this kind of thing, thats why we trust them with guns. This cop should never have a gun even in civilian life he is too stupid to be trusted with one.

  • dubinsky

    dear Things

    strangely enough, it seems as though the person threatening suicide was unable to carry it out because of the shooting …..
    ….. and was so outraged by it that it provided a reason to live …and to sue.

    less than seriously yours,
    dub.

  • Istherenonamethatdoesntexist

    Jerome Weinmann Waupaca County Wisconsin

  • dick_c

    He could be pissed because no one’s giving him an opportunity for suicide anymore.

    Shot in the face … what are the odds he wouldn’t die?

  • jane24

    I think we have every reason to believe that McClone intended that Jerome would die.