Fourth Circuit rules in favor of Patterson Harkavy client Julian Betton in excessive force suit over police shooting

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of Patterson Harkavy client Julian Betton, who was shot nine times in his own home by police officers, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Mr. Betton was being investigated for two $100 sales of marijuana. When executing a search warrant, a team of officers descended on Mr. Betton’s home and rammed down his front door without knocking or announcing that they were police officers. Officers fired 29 shots at Mr. Betton after he stepped out from his bathroom, without issuing any commands or ever identifying themselves as law enforcement officers. Then they falsely claimed that they knocked, announced, and waited before ramming down the apartment door, and that they only fired their weapons because Mr. Betton fired first.

In 2015, Patterson Harkavy filed suit on Mr. Betton’s behalf, alleging an unlawful entry and the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After the trial court denied Defendant Officer BeLue’s motion for summary judgment, he appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit. Officer BeLue argued that he could not be held liable for shooting Mr. Betton because Mr. Betton responded to officers’ forced entry by holding a gun by his side.

The Fourth Circuit rejected Officer BeLue’s argument, ruling that the law clearly established that an officer could not shoot a suspect after the officer “(1) came onto a suspect’s property; (2) forcibly entered the suspect’s home while failing to identify himself as a member of law enforcement; (3) observed inside the home an individual holding a firearm at his side; and (4) failed to give any verbal commands to that individual.” The Court of Appeals concluded that “Officer BeLue’s use of deadly force presents an ‘obvious case’ exhibiting a violation of a core Fourth Amendment right.”

Click here to read the Fourth Circuit’s opinion. In addition to local coverage, Mr. Betton’s case has received widespread national news coverage, including in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Raleigh News and Observer.