The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has affirmed a lower court's denial of immunity to Framingham Police Officer Paul Duncan. Duncan accidentally shot and killed Eurie Stamps--an unarmed, innocent, Black grandfather of 12--as Stamps lay on the floor with his hands up during a 2011 SWAT team raid on his home.
A broad coalition of groups supported this outcome in a brief filed in the case, Stamps v. Town of Framingham, last fall: the Cato Institute, the National Bar Association, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, NAACP - New England Area Conference, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts.
"This is a landmark decision. It confirms that, when police officers needlessly put members of the public at risk, the lives of those civilians matter," said Matthew R. Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "Victims of undue police violence deserve constitutional protection, and this opinion says that they have it."
Officers raided Stamps's home on January 5, 2011 because they believed that his stepson and two associates had been selling drugs in the home. But they also knew that Mr. Stamps lived there, and that he was 68 years old. They did not suspect Mr. Stamps of committing any crime or posing any threat.
Police broke through Mr. Stamps's windows and doors and set off a "flash-bang" grenade to disorient anyone inside. Placed in a terrifying situation, Mr. Stamps got down on his stomach with his hands up. The lawsuit alleges that, while other officers moved through the home, Officer Duncan pointed an M-4 rifle at Mr. Stamps with its selector on "semi-automatic" rather than "safe," and with his finger on the trigger. He accidentally fired, killing Mr. Stamps.
Although Officer Duncan knew Mr Stamps was not a target of the raid, he has argued that he is immune from liability for violating Mr. Stamps's constitutional rights. Although federal law prohibits officers from unreasonably aiming firearms at innocent people, and although that is precisely what Duncan did to Mr. Stamps, he contends that he is relieved from liability because the gunshot that killed Stamps was accidental.
"Duncan's actions are symptomatic of a larger problem in policing. The way in which the police engage communities of color reveals bias and a general lack of empathy, which can oftentimes have deadly results. The reason activists take to the streets declaring 'Black Lives Matter' is because of cases like this," said Rahsaan D. Hall, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Racial Justice Program.
The plaintiffs in the case are represented by Anthony Tarricone and Joseph Musacchio of Kreindler & Kreindler, LLP, as well as Anthony Fugate of Bardouille and Fugate.
Click here for the opinion and brief in Stamps v. Town of Framingham.