Column on Seegars v. Ashcroft
Free Speech and Jury Nullification

Devon Brown Shooting - The Facts

Devin Brown was shot dead in Los Angeles several weeks ago.  The shooting outraged many in Los Angeles, and his mom has filed a civil rights suit against the police.  Devin Brown's estate is well-represented -- The Cochran Firm took the case.

I'm going to examine the facts and the law, to see if Brown's estate can state a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983.  Since no one really knows what happened, I'm going to favorably characterize the facts first for the plaintiff, and then for the defendants.

The Facts

The plaintiff's version.

Devin Brown was a thirteen year old student.  Still in junior high, he was well-liked by his parents and classmates.  He had a remarkable smile that could cheer up even a grouch. 

Unfortunately, Devin made a youthful mistake and took a car that did not belong to him.  Since he had never driven before, he wasn't driving steadily the way experienced drivers would.  When he saw the police behind him, he paniced and did not know what to do.  He just kept driving, frozen with fear.  His youthful face was ashen.

Finally, he lost control of the car and it slid to a halt.  Scared and confused, he frantically started pulling knobs and pushing buttons on the vehicle.  These knobs felt so strange to his youthful fingers.  It appears that car started back up, though Devin wasn't trying to make it.  Finally, the car backed up into a squad car.

Fortunately, no one was in the police car when it was struck.  No one was hurt.

Then a police officer opened fire on Devin. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.  Ten times the police officer shot at poor Devin.  Even though department policy, drafted by experienced law enforcement officers, required police to think before firing every shot.  Even one stray bullet can kill the innocent, and so the chief of police required thinking before shooting.

But the officer violated official policy.  And his aim was poor.  He ended up shooting a nearby squad car five times.  Poor though his aim was, several bullets hit poor Devin. 

Little Devin, only thirteen years old, was soon pronounced dead.

The defense version.
At 4 a.m. police officers began following a car that was weaving erratically.  Suspecting that the driver was drunk, the police signaled for the car to pull over.  Instead of pulling over, the driver - who police later learned had stolen the car - led the police on a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood.

Finally, the driver lost control of the car, which started skidding and then slid to a halt.  The driver put the car in reverse and began backing up towards the police officers.  He slammed into the police car.

Fearing for their safety and scared that the driver might harm innocent residents, police officers began shooting at the car.   Tragically, the driver died. 

Had the police officers know Devon's age, they might have acted differently.  But they didn't.

What they did know was that the car was driving out of control in a residential neighborhood, and that it had attempted to run over police officers.