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Sanzone v. Gray

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 8, 2018

Dawne A. Sanzone, Personal Representative of the Supervised Estate of Keith R. Koster, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
James Gray, in his official and individual capacities, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued February 27, 2018

         Appeal 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.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Indianapolis 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.

         Background

         None of 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.

         Emergency 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.

         From 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 Murphy.

         A 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.

         Koster's 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.

         Two 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.

         On 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.

         After 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 ...


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