In 2010, Houston police officer Chris Thompson shot Ricardo Salazar-Limon in the back, severing his spine and paralyzing him from the waist down. The men’s accounts are dramatically different: Salazar-Limon claims he was simply attempting to walk away from the officer; Thompson says he thought that Salazar-Limon was reaching for a gun in his waistband. In fact, Salazar-Limon didn’t have a gun. When he sued Thompson for using excessive force, a judge chose to believe Thompson, throwing out the lawsuit. An appeals court agreed, as did the Supreme Court yesterday, reports Slate.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn’t let the case fizzle out quietly. She wrote a powerful dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sharply criticizing her colleagues’ willingness to ignore a possible instance of police brutality. Sotomayor’s opinion is a warning, Slate says, “that the court’s excessive force jurisprudence has gone lethally off track, especially when the victims are minority men.” Sotomayor said the high court’s decision “leaves in place a judgment that accepts the word of one party over the word of another. It also continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources”—namely, that the court routinely intervenes to protect police officers from lawsuits but rarely intervenes “where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity.” She said the trend is especially distressing in light of the growing pattern of officers shooting men who are “allegedly reach[ing] for empty waistbands.”