Case study – Excessive Force

Case study – Excessive Force

A police officer violates the liberty interest afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause when he shoots and kills a person with “the purpose to harm, unrelated to a legitimate law enforcement objective.”

Following a high-speed car chase, Karen Eckland was shot and killed by Stephen Markgraf, who was employed by the State of California Highway Patrol. Eckland’s children A.D. and J.E. brought a suit alleging that the officer violated their Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest in the “companionship and society of their mother.”

The Scott Law Firm represented the plaintiffs in trial.

At trial, the jury found that Markgraf had violated the Fourteenth Amendment, acting with a harmful purpose that was “unrelated to a legitimate law enforcement objective” when he shot and killed Eckland. Markgraf argued that he was entitled to post verdict qualified immunity because the constitutional violation was not “clearly established at the time of the defendant’s alleged misconduct.” The Ninth Circuit rejected Markgraf’s immunity claim, holding that the jury’s finding that Markgraf acted with the purpose of harm, unrelated to a legitimate legal purpose was entitled to deference. However, the panel reversed and remanded the lower court’s fee award because of changes in law between the lower court’s finding and the panel’s review, instructing the court to consider prior settlement offers in considering the awarding of trial fees. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED and REMANDED in part.