This case is terribly tragic. An 18-year-old high school student named Kyle experimented with LSD on a “Senior Skip Day” and the effects of the experimental use lingered for days resulting in his removal from class. One day a friend checked on him and was so concerned about Kyle that he went to the police and told them that Kyle “needed help” and that he was “armed and upset with his mother.” Dispatch sent four officers to the house but did not inform them that Kyle’s mother was not present in the home. Thinking that the mother was in the house and was in danger from Kyle, they went into the house without a warrant. Upon entering the house, Kyle appeared at the foot of the basement stairs wielding a lawnmower blade as a weapon. Officer’s tased Kyle in an attempt to get him to drop the lawnmower blade. The taser deployment was unsuccessful and Kyle came up the stairs swinging the blade striking an officer who fell back on some stairs in front of Kyle. The officer then shot and killed Kyle.
Kyle’s mother sued the officers (as well as the City of Trenton) for Fourth Amendment violations as well as excessive use of force. Noting that the case was absolutely “heart-rending” and offering their deep sympathy for Kyle’s family and friends, the court held that the entry into the home and the use of force did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court held that the warrantless entry was reasonable under the Emergency Exigency exception. The officers were told Kyle had recently experienced issues as a result of LSD use and that he was armed and angry at his mother. Not knowing his mother was absent from the home, the officer’s belief that she was in the home and in danger. When repeated knocks on the door went unanswered, they forced entry into the house. The court noted that as applied to the danger-to-police-or-others exception, a lawful warrantless entry requires “an objectively reasonable basis for believing . . . that a person within the house is in need of immediate aid.” quoting Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47 (2009). The court held that the facts here indicated that a reasonable person in the officers’ position would indeed believe that entry was necessary to prevent physical harm.
In determining that the use of force was objectively reasonable under the Graham factors, the court noted that the following facts were not in dispute at the moment of the shooting, 1) Kyle was holding a lawnmower blade, 2) he was advancing or had partially advanced up the stairs towards Driscoll, 3) Driscoll had fallen backwards onto the stairs or a landing on the stairs, and was in a seated or semi-seated position, and 4) Kyle actually struck Driscoll with the lawnmower blade. The court held that because Kyle was armed and was at that moment engaged in violence against Officer Driscoll (and further, because previous attempts to nonlethally subdue Kyle had failed), Officer Driscoll justifiably acted in self-defense.
“Given that Driscoll had probable cause to believe that Kyle would cause death or serious injury, his use of deadly force was not a violation of Kyle’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.”
To read or download the full decision CLICK HERE