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Were Civil Rights Violations Committed in Shooting of Marine Sergeant in San Clemente?

Recently, the family of a marine who was fatally shot by police last February in the parking lot of a San Clemente high school filed a wrongful death claim against the city's Sheriff's Department, alleging the improper use of deadly force on the part of the deputy responsible for the man's death. In addition to allegations of excessive force, the deputy could also be accused of civil rights violations, explains an Orange County wrongful death lawyer.

Last February, 31-year-old Marine Sergeant Manuel Loggins crashed his SUV through the fence of a high school in San Clemente. Unarmed and wearing civilian clothing, he proceeded to exit the vehicle, leaving his two daughters in the back seat. After reportedly making some irrational statements, he refused the deputy's orders and re-entered the SUV, upon which point he was shot repeatedly, reported the Orange County Register.

Under California law, deadly force may only be used when an officer has a reasonable fear that a suspect would cause him or her or a third party serious bodily injury in the absence of the use of such force.

In a U.S. Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court established a requirement that a determination of "reasonableness" was an objective test and that reasonableness of force used was judged from the perspective of the officer at the scene. According to Garner, stopping a criminal by using deadly force is akin to a seizure, which means the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure apply. The government's interest in effectively enforcing laws and ensuring public safety must thus be weighed against the fundamental constitutional rights of the defendant.

If the police did, in fact, act improperly, then the wrongful death lawsuit may include an argument that a civil rights violation occurred based on the abuse of power committed by the deputy. This could implicate federal laws and result in the case against the sheriff's deputy becoming a federal one.

Title 42 Section 1983 of the United States code establishes federal rules for holding police officers liable for abuses of power. This rule has been in effect since 1871 but in order to make a federal case imposing liability, 28 United States Code Section 1343(a)(3) makes clear that a constitutional right must have been violated. To make a federal case, therefore, the victim's family must demonstrate both that the police officer was acting as an officer at the time of the excessive use of force (i.e. he was acting under color of the law) and that he violated the Constitution.

Because the deputy in this case was acting as a sheriff's deputy under color of law, and because his actions may have been an unreasonable violation of Loggins' rights, there is a good chance that Loggins' family members can bring a federal cause of action under both federal and state court for the wrongs done by the San Clemente, California sheriff's department.

Additional information on this and other legal subjects, including books and articles on the wrongful death claims process, is available to the public free of charge through our office. If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to discuss a specific legal matter with an Orange County wrongful death lawyer, feel free to call (888) 752-7474.

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