Anatomy of a Wrongful Police Shooting: Proving Our Case

Proving a wrongful police shooting requires hard work and attention to detail. Ultimately, a jury will need to answer this question: was the use of deadly force justified by the officer’s need to eliminate a threat? Or was it an overreaction in a situation that did not warrant it? Because wrongful police shooting cases often depend on split-second decision making and officer credibility, attention to detail can be critical. A wrongful police shooting case handled by Budge & Heipt in the State of Oregon proves our point.

In the early 2000s, Ed Budge and Erik Heipt represented a woman who was pulled over for a traffic violation by a state patrol officer in rural Oregon. During the course of the encounter, a physical confrontation erupted that led to the officer shooting the woman with a single bullet. Fortunately, she survived. She hired Budge & Heipt to bring a civil rights case for excessive force against the police officer who shot her.

There were no witnesses except for the police officer and the victim of the shooting. Each told a very different story. According to the police officer, the woman became belligerent and aggressive after being pulled over. He said that she resisted arrest, got away from the officer, went into her car, pulled out something that “looked like a gun,” and turned toward him with it. Facing a perceived life-or-death situation, the officer fired one shot through the window of the car, hitting the woman (so he claimed) as she was turned toward him with the supposed weapon.

The woman’s story was very different. According to her, the officer became highly agitated and physically assaulted her after pulling her over and ordering her out of the car. Fearing for her safety, she returned to her car and attempted to lock the doors for her own self defense. As she was in her vehicle, looking around to see where the officer was, she was suddenly shot from behind—in the back.

So, which was it? Was the woman shot while pointing what looked like a gun at the officer (in which case the shooting could be justified) or was she shot while turned away from him and holding nothing (in which case the shooting could be excessive force)?

To answer the question, Budge & Heipt turned to forensic investigators and medical experts. At trial, we were able to show that the single bullet formed an entrance hole in the woman’s upper back and exited out the front of her shoulder. This meant that the officer’s story could not be true. She must have been shot from behind (when she posed no threat) instead of from the front as the officer claimed.

After a one-week jury trial in federal court, the Oregon jury agreed with us, found that the officer used excessive force and awarded $8 million in damages (including several million dollars in punitive damages).  Despite the wrongful police shooting, she was able to move on with her life with financial security.

Edwin Budge has been representing clients in civil rights cases for more than 20 years. He focuses his energy and passion into seeking justice in cases involving serious injury or wrongful death by police or in jail or prison. Contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.