A federal appeals court last week ordered a trial for a civil-rights lawsuit by the family of a 68-year-old man shot to death as he lay on his stomach on the floor, his arms above his head, in a 2011 SWAT raid he had nothing to do with.
Framingham Officer Paul Duncan, who fired the fatal shot, and the town of Framingham, argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because Eurie Stamps's death was an accident that happened while he was just doing his job.
But the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston said the reasons Duncan's gun went off were so egregious that a jury could find he was negligent and that that would override the "qualified immunity" he might otherwise have against a lawsuit. The court found that Duncan disregarded his training and department policy by aiming a semi-automatic rifle at Stamps's head with the safety off and his finger on the trigger even though Stamps - lying on the floor at the order of other officers - posed no threat.
[W]e think it close to self-evident that a jury could find as a matter of fact that Duncan's actions were not reasonable ...
The Framingham SWAT team burst into Stamps's apartment shortly after midnight on Jan. 5, 2011, in search of Stamps's stepson, whom they suspected of being a drug dealer; Stamps himself was never suspected of anything. They used a battering ram to knock down a door and threw a flash-bang grenade through the first-floor unit's kitchen window. After one officer ordered Stamps to the floor, other officers stepped over him in their rush to look for the son-in-law; Duncan was assigned to guard him.
The court asked:
We ask "whether the legal contours of the right in question were sufficiently clear that a reasonable officer would have understood that what he was doing violated the right," and then consider "whether in the particular factual context of the case, a reasonable officer would have understood that his conduct violated the right."
Yes, the court ruled.
The Middlesex County District Attorney's office ruled the shooting an accident and did not bring the case to a grand jury.