Citing the “disarray” in a recent appeals court ruling, Minneapolis officials are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intercede in a wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from the 2013 fatal police shooting of Terrance Franklin.
The request comes five years after Franklin was killed by police following a chase through Uptown after he was believed to be a suspect in a burglary. Eventually, they cornered him in the darkened basement of a south Minneapolis home and he was shot. In the struggle to apprehend him, two SWAT officers were wounded by gunshots from another officer’s M5 submachine gun.
Franklin’s family filed a wrongful-death suit. It alleges that Franklin had surrendered to police, his hands raised in the air, but the M5 accidentally discharged and he was shot multiple times. Police and city officials have disputed that version of events, saying Franklin gained control of the gun and shot the two officers. The suit names officers Lucas Peterson and Michael Meath, former Chief Janeé Harteau and the city of Minneapolis as defendants. It seeks damages in excess of $1 million for excessive force, unreasonable search and seizure and wrongful death.
The officers involved were cleared in an internal investigation, and a grand jury concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them.
The city’s attorneys have argued that two questions raised in court — how much time elapsed between when the two officers were wounded and when Franklin was killed, and whether Franklin was holding the submachine gun at the time he was shot — are not relevant to determining whether a reasonable officer in the same circumstances would have considered him a “significant threat.” The district court, and later the 8th Circuit, disagreed with that argument.
Now the city is calling on the Supreme Court to provide clarity on the matter. The move comes after the federal appeals court for the 8th Circuit in December denied the city’s appeal of an earlier district court ruling because of jurisdictional issues.
The city attorney’s office said through a spokesman on Thursday afternoon that the city’s filing speaks for itself, and declined further comment.
Attorney Michael Padden, who filed the suit in 2014 on behalf of Franklin’s family, said he suspects that the city “feels emboldened” by a recent high court decision on “qualified immunity.”
In that case, justices in a 7-2 vote tossed out a lawsuit by an Arizona woman who was shot by police outside her home because she was seen carrying a large knife. Civil rights advocates said at the time that the ruling raises the legal bar to hold officers who use excessive force accountable.
Under qualified immunity, officers are shielded from excessive-force lawsuits as long as they didn’t violate “clearly established” rights that a “reasonable person would have known.”
The Supreme Court hears only about 80 cases a year from thousands of appeals it receives.