The facts here do no bode well for the wrongful death claim brought by the decedent's family. The decedent (Jaquez), came after the police with a knife even after they Tased him upon showing up at a domestic dispute at his home. More Tasers ensured, to no avail. Jaquez continued to attack the officers until they shot and him with rubber bullets, which did not stop Jaquez. Eventually, they killed him with live bullets, knife still in hand.
The case is Estate of Jaquez v. City of New York, a summary order issued on September 8. So, on these facts, what case is available to the Jaquez estate? He sues under Section 1983, which prohibits the unlawful use of excessive force. Plaintiff's expert says "Jaquez was in a psychotic state and that when the officers entered the apartment with weapons and body armor, this escalated Jaquez’s reactions." The assistant medical examiner contradicted the officers' version of events, stating that "because the autopsy report indicated that the bullets entered Jaquez’s body from above, the bullets’ trajectory indicated that the officers were above Jaquez when he was shot, which Appellants contend would contradict the officers’ claim that Jaquez was standing and attacking them at the time they deployed live ammunition." The examiner also "proposed to testify that it would have been impossible, based on the injuries suffered, for Jaquez to push himself off the floor and continue attacking the officers after the first gunshot wounds."
The trial court dismissed some of the claims on qualified immunity grounds. On appeal, the Second Circuit (Hall, Lynch and Droney) affirms the grant of qualified immunity, which shields officers from suit when they did not violate clearly-established law. Even if Jaquez did not have a knife in his hand, the officers said they did not see his hand at that time and could not determine if he was unarmed when they shot the Taser. "Thus, in the moments that Jaquez was walking down the hallway 'officers of reasonable competence could disagree' as to whether Jaquez was a threat because the officers knew Jaquez had easy access to a fillet knife, was acting erratically, and was refusing to obey the officers’ commands."
As for Jaquez's other claims, again, qualified immunity. While the estate says there was an issue for the jury as to whether he was attacking the officers when they later used lethal and non-lethal force following the first deployment of the Taser, the Court says there is no real dispute whether he was attacking the officers with a knife. "Moreover, because of Jaquez’s refusal to follow commands, his close proximity to a lethal weapon, and his behavior up to that point, the arresting officers reasonably could have believed that Jaquez posed a threat." A similar analysis follows on the estate's claim that the initial use of force was a jury-worthy incident. Any disputes about the trajectory of the bullets and whether Jaquez was physically able to reach for a knife are not trialworthy because "the limited circumstantial evidence indicating the possible positions of the officers and Jaquez at the time that they initially fired live ammunition is insufficient to defeat summary judgment on qualified immunity. There is no dispute that immediately prior to the officers’ use of lethal force Jaquez
threatened the officers with a knife—thus engaging in the use of lethal force himself."
Other claims went to trial but were met with a defendants' verdict. The trial court did not abuse its discretion on the evidentiary rulings that the estate challenges on appeal. For example, as for expert testimony about Jaquez's psychological state and the propriety of the police officers' actions, that was properly excluded because the doctor was not shown to have expertise in psychiatric diagnosis or in police practices.