Legal Law

The fifth circuit states that insulting and setting hearth to an individual soaked in gasoline shouldn’t be an improper use of power

So here we are in the Fifth Circle: Cops can literally set a person on fire and walk away from them.

Despite Judge Don Willett’s incendiary remarks against qualified immunity, civil rights disputes in the Fifth Circuit still remain a fool’s game, with police officers being forgiven more than any other court.

Here is the final depressing reading by the Court of Appeals that can’t persuade themselves to remove this sign from officials who berated a suicide after covering himself in gasoline and turned a possible suicide into an actual murder.

Some police officers seem to think that suicide threats should be turned into self-fulfilling prophecy. The police officers involved – all police officers in Arlington, Texas – turned a family member’s 911 call into exactly what the family members hoped to prevent. From the opinion [PDF]::

On July 10, 2017, Gabriel Anthony called Olivas 911 and reported that his father threatened to kill himself and burn down her home. Corporal Ray, Sergeant Jefferson, and officers Scott, Elliott, and Guadarrama from the Arlington Police Department responded.

Look at the thin blue line that separates suicide and the threat of burning down a house.

At least Guadarrama and Elliott, and maybe Jefferson, noticed that Olivas was holding what looked like a lighter. Guadarrama, followed shortly by Jefferson, fired his taser at the gasoline-soaked man and set him on fire. It was around this time that Corporal Ray and Officer Scott arrived at the scene. When they entered the house, they found Olivas on fire.

The fire spread from Olivas to the bedroom walls and the house eventually burned down. The officers at the scene were able to evacuate the family members who remained in the house, but Olivas was badly burned and later died of his injuries.

With results like this, it’s a wonder someone would bother calling the police. If the family wanted their father dead and their house burned down, they could have done that by doing nothing. Hell, they might have prevented it. After all, the family had more at stake and would have been more willing to de-escalate. But the cops got involved and the rest is QI history.

The question is what a “reasonable” officer would have done in the circumstances. However, the court decides in favor of the less sensible officials, despite warnings from other, more sensible officials on the ground.

Upon entering, Officer Guadarrama noticed the smell of gasoline. A woman led the officers into a corner bedroom on the east side of the house. There they found Gabriel Eduardo Olivas (“Olivas”) leaning against a wall and holding a red gas can. After pointing his flashlight at Olivas, Officer Elliott reportedly called out to Sergeant Jefferson and Officer Guadarrama, “If we abuse him, he’ll catch fire. ”

The court says it doesn’t matter when the man was burned as a result of the tase. The only thing that matters is whether or not he deserves to be scolded. The court says the dead person deserved his tasing. The unfortunate by-product of his tasing – his death, the family home burning down – cannot be held against the officials who set him on fire.

Olivas posed a significant and imminent risk of death and serious injury to himself and everyone in the house. He was covered in gasoline. He had threatened to kill himself and burn the house down. He seemed to be holding a lighter. At this point there were at least six other people in the house, all of whom were in danger.

From this point of view, the use of the armed forces was appropriate. It doesn’t matter that at least one other officer felt different on site.

The fact that Olivas appeared to have the ability to set herself on fire immediately, and in fact threatened to do so, meant that the officers had no obvious way of avoiding calamity. If, in retrospect, it is still not clear what could have been done differently under these circumstances to achieve a better result, we, who are more than three years away from the moment, certainly cannot conclude this Guadarrama or Jefferson acted in the Unreasonable requirements of the moment.

Even if it could reasonably be foreseen that pacing a man covered in gasoline would result in serious injury or death, it was not inappropriate to grope him for the threat he posed. The fact that the implementation of this act turned the threat into reality apparently has no influence on the result. The only thing that matters is whether it was legally permissible to insult him. Everything else is just noise, according to the Fifth Circuit.

Read the full opinion here.

The fifth circuit states that insulting and setting fire to a person soaked in gasoline is not an improper use of force

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