Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic Submits Brief to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

Recently, the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic submitted a brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of Christopher Cantu, the personal representative of Robert Lawrence, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Dothan, Alabama. The Clinic argues that an officer violated Lawrence’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force when she fatally shot him without warning.

This case arose out of an encounter at the City of Dothan’s Animal Shelter between an on-duty officer and Lawrence. According to the complaint, after Lawrence attempted to drop off a stray dog but refused to provide identification, the officer followed him to the parking lot to take down his vehicle’s tag number. The officer also requested assistance which soon arrived. After speaking back and forth with Lawrence, the back-up officer attempted to arrest him. The situation quickly escalated into a struggle. The back-up officer ultimately pinned Lawrence against his vehicle and the on-duty officer attempted to Tase him. Lawrence then managed to grab hold of the Taser’s barrel, and the on-duty officer drew her firearm and shot Lawrence in the abdomen without warning. He died at the scene. His girlfriend and three young children were present.

Cantu sued the on-duty officer alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted the officer’s motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. On appeal, Cantu advances two arguments. He first asserts that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer violated Lawrence’s clearly established right when she fatally shot him without warning. As her conduct was objectively unreasonable, the district court erred in granting qualified immunity. Cantu’s second argument asserts that the officer is not entitled to state agent immunity. For more on this appeal, the Dothan Eagle has coverage at this link.

Third-year law students Kelly Rondinelli and Tessa Tilton were primarily responsible for the briefing. Students in the Clinic practice under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Tillman J. Breckenridge, a partner at Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP and director of the Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic.

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