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Context:

Re: Woman shot by school safety officer to be disconnected from life support

The school safety officer had responded to an "off-campus" incident, Chris Eftychiou, public information director for the Long Beach Unified School District, told CNN in an email.

"The preliminary investigation revealed the school safety officer was driving when he observed a physical altercation between an 18-year-old female suspect and a 15-year-old female juvenile victim occurring in the street," the LBPD statement said. Police said Rodriguez and two others involved in the altercation then attempted to flee in a four-door sedan, when the school safety officer approached the vehicle and shot at it as it accelerated quickly, striking Rodriguez, who was in the front passenger seat.

The incident was "off campus": outside of a school.

Questions:

Is there a Federal bright-line in which officers are forbidden from shooting / killing a non-threatening fleeing suspect? or is this left to the states to decide? Did a fleeing Manuela Rodriguez have the right not to be shot and killed by a Millikan High School safety?

Bonus round: any clarification as to whether California Highschool safety officers have the authority to enforce law outside of the confines of a school is also of interest.

Commentary:

IANAL: any edits to the question is appreciated: including tags. In a day and age where law enforcement is a political football, this question is intended to be posed agnostically: I would like to understand the contours of the law. That being, I would think it prudent for the young, to review this CNN article for understanding the risk associated with fleeing law enforcement over a fist-fight.

As a frequent metropolitan pedestrian, my biases lead me to believe that shooting at fleeing suspects (that have not posed a threat) is unnecessarily dangerous to the community and prompts me to pose the question.

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    At least where I went to school, a High School Safety Officer was a regular duty cop assigned to the school.
    – Ron Beyer
    Oct 3 '21 at 14:35
  • @RonBeyer Thanks for the comment. Was your high school in CA? The article cites officer training requirements and leads me to believe that a Long Beach High School Safety Officer training is somehow differentiated from a standard beat-officer. It is unclear if this training is the super-set or a sub-set of the beat officer.
    – gatorback
    Oct 3 '21 at 14:41
  • No, in Wisconsin
    – Ron Beyer
    Oct 3 '21 at 14:53
  • The rub here is the definition of "non-threatening". The DOE regs for example authorize shooting someone who is stealing certain types of nuclear material.
    – Fizz
    Oct 4 '21 at 2:33
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The bright line depends on perspective. In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 the court held that

The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.

The opinion continues

As in other Fourth Amendment contexts, however, the "reasonableness" inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers' actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation... An officer's evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer's good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional.

The court earlier said in Tennessee v. Garner that an objective judgment that a suspect poses a threat makes it not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force, but a general authorization of deadly force to prevent all felony-suspect escapes is unreasonable. In Tennessee v. Graham, the court also stated that

if ...there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape

That is, it is reasonable to interpolate from a justified belief that the suspect has (threatened to) inflict serious physical harm to a belief that the suspect will do so in the future. (Of course the totality of circumstances would make such a judgment unreasonable).

The lines are a bit blurry in that the Graham v. Connor framework was cited by both prosecution and defense in the Chauvin trial.

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The federal precedential case on using deadly force against a fleeing suspect is Tennessee v. Garner:

The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so.

Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.

This case does not generally prohibit using deadly force to arrest someone who is fleeing in a vehicle, as vehicles are deadly weapons. A person fleeing police in a car poses a threat to pursuing officers and the general public so it is up to local policy and the officers on scene to weigh the risk of public harm against the interest of taking suspects alive and the risk of attempting to use deadly force against them. However, most if not all police departments do not allow the use of deadly force merely because someone is fleeing in a vehicle and also prohibit using firearms against a vehicle in this way, and at least according to the LA Times this is true of the Long Beach Police Department as well:

According to a use-of-force policy from Long Beach Unified’s school safety office, officers are not permitted to fire at a moving vehicle. Firearms may be discharged only when reasonably necessary and justified under the circumstances, such as self-defense and the protection of others, the policy states. The policy also bars shooting at fleeing suspects.

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