Brown v. Bridgeport Police Department
An individual who allegedly ignores a police officer's signal to pull over, engages in a high-speed chase, collides with a tree, flees on foot and is shot may qualify as an identifiable victim, subject to imminent harm. On Jan. 31, 2008, the defendant, Officer Brian Fitzgerald, was directing traffic at a construction site in Bridgeport. Police were on the lookout for Justin Ellerbe, who was wanted by law enforcement in another state. An anonymous caller reported Ellerbe was driving a sports utility vehicle in Bridgeport. Police informed Officer Fitzgerald an SUV was en route to his location. Fitzgerald entered his police cruiser and traveled toward the SUV, which abruptly changed directions. The SUV failed to stop, when Fitzgerald activated his lights. A high-speed chase ensued, and the SUV collided with a tree. The African-American driver, Frederick McAllister, exited and allegedly reached into his waistband and took out an object. Fitzgerald believed that the object was a firearm. Fitzgerald shot three times and believed he heard return fire. Fitzgerald fired again and struck McAllister. Officers searched and discovered no weapons, only a blackberry phone. McAllister passed away, and the plaintiffs sued Fitzgerald and the municipality, alleging negligent use of deadly force. Municipal defendants argued that they were entitled to immunity. Exceptions to qualified immunity for the performance of negligent acts are recognized: 1.) if failure to act will subject an identifiable victim to imminent harm; 2.) if statutes explicitly provide a cause of action; or 3.) if the alleged conduct involves malice, wantonness or intent to injure. Here, the plaintiffs' complaint adequately alleged that the plaintiffs' decedent, McAllister, was an identifiable victim, subject to imminent harm. "The category of potential victims," wrote the court, "did not include every motorist on the highways of Bridgeport's East Side, but a specific operator, who allegedly disregarded a signal to stop his vehicle, attempted to elude a police pursuit, and was shot by a police officer, after his car struck a tree, and he fled on foot." The court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' allegations of negligent use of deadly force.