Court holds firm in deadly police shooting

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SANDPOINT — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is declining to reconsider its ruling against granting qualified immunity to Sandpoint Police officers who shot and killed a woman armed with a knife in 2014.

The city’s counsel had argued in a federal lawsuit filed by members of Jeanetta Riley’s family that officers should be shielded from liability because their conduct didn’t violate any laws or the U.S. Constitution. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill disagreed and denied a motion for summary judgment on that specific issue last year. Winmill held that the officers’ use of force was excessive and violated Riley’s Fourth Amendment rights, court documents show.

Riley, 35, was killed outside Bonner General Health after refusing commands to drop a knife and began walking toward officers. Riley was shot twice by officers Skylar Ziegler and Michael Valenzuela.

Winmill ruled that Riley had made unspecific threats to kill, but the seriousness of the threats were undercut by her husband, Shane, who stood calmly beside her. Winmill further held that officers could have used non-lethal methods to subdue the woman and she was never warned that deadly force would be utilized if she didn’t follow commands.

The city appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit, but judges Kim McLane Wardlaw, John Owens and Joan Lefkow dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The trio of judges concluded that the city merely disputed the circumstances of the shooting without conceding facts in the case or seeking judgment on the law.

The city subsequently petitioned for an en banc hearing before all the judges on the 9th Circuit as opposed to a panel of the judges. En banc is French for “in bench.”

The same panel of judges denied a request for rehearing en banc on Aug. 31, according to federal court records.

“The full court has been advised of the petition for rehearing en banc, and no judge has requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc,” Wardlaw, Owens and Lefkow said in the one-page order.

Other arguments contained in the city’s motion for summary judgment are expected to be heard in December or January 2019, court records indicate. Those arguments include no liability on claims that officers used their authority to deprive Riley’s civil rights and that use of force was not excessive given the threat posed and the totality of the circumstance.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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