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Police Brutality: 9th Cir. Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment for Defendants in 42 U.S.C. 1983 Action

In Newmaker v. City of Fortuna, et. al.,Docket #14-15098, The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed The District Court’s granting of summary judgment for the defendants in this action predicated on 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs claimed that Maxwell Soeth, a City of Fortuna police officer, used excessive force during an attempted arrest when he fatally shot Jacob Newmaker. Soeth claimed that he shot Newmaker because he grabbed Soeth’s  baton. Soeth testified that Newmaker was standing and swinging the baton at the head of his fellow officer at which time he shot him. He further testified that Newmaker after being shot fell to the ground and that Newmaker was getting back up swinging the baton at which time he shot him again. The Court concluded that both the autopsy and a dashboard camera contradicted his testimony and raised an issue of credibility and that summary judgment should not be granted in Section 1983 actions which turn on an officer’s credibility which is  genuinely in doubt. The Court pointed out that the autopsy findings “…can be explained only by Newmaker having been turned away from Soeth, bending over, and low to the ground in both shots…” This, the Court stated clearly contradicted Soeth’s testimony that Newmaker was standing up swinging the baton when he was first shot or attempting to stand up while still swinging the baton when he was shot again. The video, the Court stated also contradicted Soeth’s testimony. Although of poor quality, it appeared to show that Newmaker who had been tasered multiple times had already fallen to the street when he was shot. The Court thus held that officer Soeth was not entitled to Qualified immunity as there were material issues of fact including both officers credibility which were for a jury to decide. Read Full Opinion here.