After an Orange County sheriff's deputy executed a delusional suspect in 2013, he wasn't reprimanded. Instead, he was given a medal of valor.
Now, the victim's mother is being allowed to sue the officer, a federal appellate court ruled.
According to The OC Register, Deputy Michael Higgins shot suspect Connor Zion, 21, who was in the middle of a seizure, 18 times before stomping on the knife-wielding man’s head.
On Wednesday, the excessive force suit that had been rejected by a lower court previously was revived by a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel led by Alex Kozinski.
According to the lead judge, “head-stomping a suspect curled up in the fetal position is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities.”
The entire incident was captured by a sheriff’s camera. In it, we can see the victim having his head stomped on three times. Prior to the incident, the officer had shot the suspect nine times before he fell on the ground. The deputy then shoots him another nine times as he stands over the suspect.
WARNING: The following tweet contains graphic footage.
Los Angeles Police officer Michael Higgins shoots 21yr old mentally ill Connor Zion 18 times killing him. Then stomps his head in. pic.twitter.com/Scc1ohjVil— ?? (@tmoneymil_) November 2, 2017
At the time, the district attorney’s report on the incident called the deputy’s actions “reasonable and justified.” More recently, the sheriff’s department stood by the DA’s assessment, saying that the July 2014 investigation “concluded Deputy Higgins did not commit a crime.”
After an investigation of the officer-involved shooting, the DA determined that the deputy had used “justifiable force and saved the life of a fellow deputy (Juan Lopez) and potentially prevented injuries to others.”
But to Ron Lowenberg, dean of the police academy at Golden West College, the deputy’s actions are far from justified.
“I don’t believe anyone would tell you that kind of continuation of force is appropriate after having put a suspect down with a firearm,” he said.
Larry Rosenthal, a law professor at the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, added that the fact Higgins got a medal of valor for his actions “boggles” his mind.
To the appellate justices, the first nine bullets should have sufficed to keep the suspect from exposing anybody else to any danger, and yet, Higgins went on to shoot at him another nine times and then stomp on his head.
The man died due to the gunshot wounds he sustained.
According to Wednesday’s ruling, Zion’s family has the right to sue since Zion was no longer a threat when the officer decided to shoot another nine bullets at him.
“A reasonable jury could find that Zion was no longer an immediate threat, and that Higgins should have held his fire unless and until Zion showed signs of danger or flight,” said the ruling.
“Or, a jury could find that the second round of bullets was justified, but not the head-stomping.”
Attorney Jerry Steering, who’s representing Zion’s mother, said that in the 33 years he has been handling these cases, “this is the first case I can say that I’ve actually seen what appears to be a police execution.”
While this shooting was definitely carried out like an execution, most fatal police-involved shootings are just as troubling, as officers guilty of murder are seldom prosecuted.
If cops guilty of excessive force never pay for their actions, others will never think twice before acting.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Sandy Huffaker