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Judge denies claim of excessive force

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday denied the claim of a Salem man and his wife that alleges police officers used "excessive force."

Following a domestic dispute more than four years ago, Blaine Phillips, 39, locked himself in his bedroom after local law enforcement agencies responded to a 911 hang-up call from his wife. According to court documents, negotiations were unsuccessful and Phillips continued to threaten to shoot officers who had surrounded his house.

Following one specific threat, a member of the Utah County SWAT team shot Phillips in the right shoulder.

The Phillips' appeal included questions of whether he was unreasonably seized, whether the decision to deploy the SWAT team was reasonable, whether it was reasonable for the officer to shoot at him and whether interview statements were admissible as hearsay," as stated in the court's opinion, written by Judge Monroe G. McKay.

The court found that "to be constitutionally permissible, an officer's use of force must be reasonable, which is measured from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, recognizing that officers are sometimes forced to make split-second judgments in uncertain and dangerous circumstances," the opinion states.

Phillips claimed his constitutional rights were violated, in that the officer used deadly force, violating a Fourth Amendment protection. McKay cited a 1995 case in which it was found that the "use of deadly force is justified under the Fourth Amendment if the reasonable officer . . . would have had probable cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm to themselves or to others."

McKay affirmed the officer's actions believing the situation "was clearly a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation that we do not like to second-guess using the 20/20 hindsight found in the comfort of a judge's chambers." Therefore the court denied the appeal, stating the officer acted reasonably and that the couple could not establish a violation of their constitutional rights.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com