Wichita officers stormed a small house in West McCormick Street, on December 5, 2017. In response to what appeared to be a horrendous hostage situation, they arrived at the house on West McCormick Street to confront a husband and father who had been killed, as well as a pregnant woman who was in imminent danger and a son that threatened to destroy everything.
Andrew Finch was killed by a sniper rifle seconds after he opened his door. Threety minutes went by before any emergency personnel could arrive. For more than one hour, police handcuffed Finch’s mother, sister and niece outside in the cold, while two other friends waited. Finch wasn’t the boy the police wanted, and he was not with his family in crisis.
It was not a situation of crisis. A California caller called the Wichita Police Department that afternoon at approximately 5:00 pm. He reported a work in fiction and gave the address. This set the stage for the chaotic events.
According to the lawsuit, the family claims that the officers failed to perform basic checks before using lethal force against an innocent man. According to the suit, the officers violated department policy and declined to call SWAT teams. They also chose not to investigate the case despite obvious warning signs that it was not a legitimate call. Finch’s death came after the officers failed to try negotiations with him before ending his life.
“After Defendant Officers…surrounded 1033 West McCormick, they made no attempt to determine whether an occupant of the house was in a mental health crisis; had shot someone; had threatened to hold or was holding someone at gunpoint; had threatened or was threatening to burn the house down; had threatened or was threatening to commit suicide; was in possession of a firearm; or posed a danger to themselves or others,” reads the suit, which was originally filed against the city of Wichita and officers Justin Rapp (who fired the shot) and Benjamin Jonker (who organized the response).
It is not clear if the family will face any accountability.
“The argument from the police officer seems to be basically: because they thought a heinous crime had been committed…it was fine to shoot Mr. Finch onsite as soon as he opened the door,” says Easha Anand, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center who is representing the family. This is not the way our justice system works. Because you are not allowed to simply shoot someone on the spot, it is illegal. ThinkThey were guilty of a terrible crime.
Anand presented that argument to U.S. Court of Appeals in the 10th Circuit. This was against Rapp’s assertion that he should be entitled to qualified immunity. The legal doctrine allows government officials to infringe your Constitution rights, without the need to go before a civil jury. This is provided that there aren’t any preexisting court precedents declaring this conduct illegal. The removal of qualified immunity doesn’t guarantee settlement. Instead, it gives victims the right and privilege to make their case.
This is often an impossible task for plaintiffs, regardless of how outrageous the behavior. Take a look at an example: Onree Norris, 78, was arrested after more than 20 cops entered his home and destroyed his front door. They also set off explosives inside his house in a raid for drugs. The wrong house was theirs. Although Norris was saved from the firefight, Norris cannot sue those officers for leaving his house partially in ruin. He couldn’t find a similar court ruling that would have outlined his experiences.
Anand won the agreement of a lower court in summer: Rapp does not have qualified immunity and Rapp should be entitled to damages. She is hopeful that the 10th Circuit will also agree. The suit was quashed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. She hopes that the appeals panel will reopen the case.
“The most discipline we’ve seen for any officer-involved shooting—including ones where Wichita itself concluded the Fourth Amendment was violated—was a one-day suspension,” notes Anand. The appeal also raises the issue of whether municipalities are responsible for enforcing the Constitution and ensuring that their officers follow it.
Finch’s family filed a claim against the district court. The court applied bizarre logic. According to it, the municipality cannot be sued as there is no “pattern for incidents that result in jury verdicts in the police force.” But how can victims hold the officials accountable for their actions if the municipality where they live declines? This is a self-destructive premise.
Anyone who is concerned about the preservation of some degree of limited government should be worried by another issue. Anand says, “It provides cities with a level of protection that normal citizens don’t have.” Did the park’s owner know that something wasn’t right with their ride? They don’t have to ask whether juries ruled that what they did was negligent. They are asked if they were able to find the right information to make a conclusion that something is wrong.
Although police shootings in Wichita are not often reported on the news, there have been a few that have caught attention in recent years. Marquez Smart in 2012 was misidentified as a suspect and was three shots in the back. Karen Jackson in 2014, a suicidal lady who had been stabbed by herself in the stomach with a knife, was also shot in the back in police shootings in Wichita. Under qualified immunity, the federal courts dismissed the second case. After the claims were dismissed, the former was able to sue the city for $900,000. The settlement came just nine years later, in July.
According to the Finch suit, “WPD does not have independent oversight over its officers’ investigations.” This permits WPD officers to be faulty investigated without any consequence. Gordon Ramsay, chief of Wichita Police has admitted that there may be an issue.
Finch’s relatives can overcome the 10th Circuit and the city would have even more reason to do so. What if Wichita were responsible for failing to investigate these shootings and disciplining any officers? [and]A culture that does not hold them accountable? Do you think that the Wichita Library has to be closed? Anand asks. The answer to that question is “No. This is not the way it will work. This is not the way our liability system works. We don’t think in those consequentialist terms…when it comes to the owner of the amusement park, or the ordinary employer.”