WASHINGTON -The Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand a lower court’s ruling that a Prince George’s County Police officer did not use excessive force when he shot an unarmed man three times in 1991.
The high court’s decision not to hear the case upholds a March ruling that Officer David Russell did not use excessive force when he shot Major Maurice Anderson, because he believed Anderson was going for a gun.
Anderson was actually reaching to turn off the Walkman radio in his back pocket when he was shot three times outside Prince George’s Plaza, causing permanent damage to his left arm and left leg.
A U.S. district court jury had ruled in 1996 that Russell used excessive force in the shooting, but U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow overturned the verdict. She agreed that the officer used excessive force, but said he should be granted immunity because he was following his training as a police officer.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals went even further, ruling that Russell did not use excessive force and that he should have been granted immunity from prosecution in the first place.
Anderson asked the Supreme Court to hear his case on the grounds that Chasanow should not have reversed the jury’s decision.
“All the evidence was presented to the jury. The jury made its decision and found in favor of Major Anderson,” said Jeffrey R. White, Anderson’s attorney. “The judge is not supposed to impose his or her opinion of the credibility of the witnesses.”
But Russell’s attorney said the officer acted properly.
“The officer observed a bulge in Anderson’s pocket,” said Jay H. Creech, Russell’s attorney. “Everything was consistent with what the officer had heard and observed to make him believe that this person was armed.
“What would a reasonable officer have done in that situation?” Creech asked. “There’s only one conclusion. The officer would believe that he was reaching for a gun and preparing to quick-draw the police officer.”
According to court records, Anderson had been drinking when he arrived at the mall around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 28, 1991. He bought a bottle of wine and walked through the mall drinking it. He had an eyeglass case stuffed with a shoe polish container tucked underneath his belt, a Walkman in his back pocket and earphones under his hat.
Russell and another officer were on duty at the mall when a shopper told them that it looked like Anderson was carrying a gun under his waistband.
The officers watched Anderson until he left the mall, when they approached with guns drawn and ordered him to raise his hands and drop to his knees. Court records said Anderson complied at first, but then lowered his hands and started to reach toward the radio his back pocket, at which point Russell opened fire.
Neither Anderson nor Russell could be reached for comment on the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday. White said Anderson has no fixed address, and he plans to contact him through a family member. Russell has left the police department, and Creech said did not know how he is currently employed.