Dawne A. Sanzone, Personal Representative of the Supervised Estate of Keith R. Koster, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
James Gray, in his official and individual capacities, Defendant-Appellant.
February 27, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No.
1:15-cv-01301-TWP-TAB - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Barrett, Circuit Judges.
police officer James Gray fatally shot an agitated Keith
Koster when Koster threatened to fire a "warning
shot" and then pointed his gun at police officers
gathered in the doorway of his apartment. Koster's sister
sued on behalf of his estate, claiming that Gray violated the
Fourth Amendment by using excessive force. The district court
denied Gray's motion for summary judgment based on
qualified immunity. Because Gray acted reasonably when Koster
pointed a gun at him and fellow officers, he did not violate
the Fourth Amendment and is entitled to qualified immunity.
We therefore reverse the district court's decision and
remand with instructions to enter judgment for Gray.
the following was disputed at summary judgment: In January
2014, Timothy Bess called the Indianapolis Metropolitan
Police Department, requesting that it send staff to check on
his friend, Keith Koster. Bess reported that Koster suffered
from chronic fatigue and digestive system issues, and that he
was vomiting and having trouble breathing.
personnel responded to Bess's call. Sarah Hunt,
Koster's apartment-complex manager, gave them the keys to
Koster's apartment in case Koster could not answer the
door. Once Officer Billy Murphy unlocked the door, the
situation escalated quickly. Koster yelled repeatedly:
"Don't come in!" Hunt heard firefighter Ben
Holton say, "We're here to help you." But
Koster shouted, "If you enter my apartment I will shoot
you." Hunt and Holton warned the others about seeing a
gun in Koster's right hand, and then they left the scene.
the doorway, Murphy took control. He saw Koster sitting up in
bed with a gun in his right hand, swallowing several pills.
Murphy talked with Koster, trying to convince him to put down
the gun. Then SWAT members (including Sergeant Steve Walters
and defendant James Gray) arrived and changed places with
hostage negotiator, Officer Daniel Rosenberg, began
discussions with Koster. Koster asked to speak with his
medical advocate, but Rosenberg said that would be too
dangerous while Koster still held the gun. Koster also asked
for his brother, an Indianapolis officer, so someone called
and left a voicemail for Koster's brother. Koster still
refused to put down the gun.
agitation grew, and he declared that he would "fire a
warning shot." Walters told the officers in front of him
to stay down, because "If [Koster] comes up, [Walters
would] fire less-lethal rounds, " and Walters did not
want to hit the back of an officer's head. Rosenberg saw
Koster move his right arm up and point his gun, and so
Rosenberg ducked behind the SWAT ballistics shields.
SWAT members fired their weapons when they saw Koster's
movement. Walters said that he saw Koster point the gun
"right at our face[s]." So he fired one beanbag
round. Gray, who had the priority of shot (he occupied the
position with the best viewpoint to shoot), said that he saw
Koster's arm come "essentially to full extension. It
was pointed out towards us." Immediately following
Walters's shot, Gray fired three bullets at Koster's
head; two hit him. Emergency personnel transported Koster to
the closest trauma center, where he died.
behalf of Koster's estate, Dawne Sanzone, Koster's
sister, brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
against officers Murphy and Gray, among others. She asserted
various claims, including false arrest and excessive force.
discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. They
all raised a qualified-immunity defense, arguing that they
did not violate any clearly established constitutional right.
Koster was not falsely arrested, they argued, because the
officers had probable cause to arrest him, and the use of
deadly force was not excessive because ...