on August 22, 2016 at 1:43 PM, updated August 22, 2016 at 2:05 PM
FLINT TWP., MI – A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a lawsuit against a police officer who fatally shot a fleeing suspect can move forward.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision Aug. 22 finding Flint Township police officer Matthew Needham is not entitled to qualified immunity for the July 16, 2014, fatal shooting of Dominique Lewis.
Lewis’ family filed the lawsuit April 20, 2015, in Detroit U.S. District Court after Lewis was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Flushing Road near Eldorado Street in Flint Township. The stop and shooting was recorded on dash-cam video.
Judges Helene N. White and Sheryl H. Lipman upheld Detroit U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn’s decision not to grant summary judgement to Needham based on claims of immunity.
“The dash-cam video does not conclusively show that a reasonable officer would have believed Lewis posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Needham or others in the vicinity,” the appeals judges ruled. “Rather, viewed in the light most favorable to the Estate, it shows that Lewis–who was not suspected of any violent crime–was merely trying to flee a traffic stop in a vehicle, which alone is not sufficient to justify the use of deadly force.”
Attorneys for Needham and the township asked Cohen to grant Needham immunity and dismiss the lawsuit.
Appeals Judge Alice M. Batchelder authored a dissent opinion agreeing with the request.
“In refusing to grant such immunity here, the majority adds confusion not only to law of this circuit, but also to the difficult task faced by law enforcement in applying what we say is clearly established law,” Batchelder wrote. “How exactly we expect them to conform their actions to the rule purportedly applied in this case is beyond me. I suppose they will conclude that they must stand idly by, obstructing would-be escapees with nothing more than entreaties to stop. That is not the law, nor should it be.”
Dash-cam video and police reports obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal through the Freedom of Information Act show a Flint Township officer initiated a traffic stop of a white Chevrolet Impala after the officer claimed the vehicle was clocked traveling 13 mph over the speed limit.
Needham arrived as a backup officer on the scene to assist the Flint Township officer who made the traffic stop.
Lewis was a passenger in the back seat of the stopped car.
The officer who initiated the stop claimed she wanted to search the vehicle after she said she thought she smelled marijuana inside the vehicle, according to police reports.
The officer also said the passengers were “moving around in the vehicle like they may have been trying to hide something,” according to police reports.
The 12 minute, 8 second dash-cam video released by police shows the officer who pulled over the car removing the driver from the vehicle nearly 10 minutes into the stop and frisking her.