Scottsdale police used excessive force in 2008 when they shot a man in the back without a warning, rendering him a paraplegic, a judge has ruled.
David Hulstedt, who was 35 at the time of the shooting, filed a $40 million lawsuit against the city in 2009.
An August 6 ruling in the suit by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow describes how police showed up to Hulstedt's north Scottsdale home because they were concerned about the safety of the man's 2-year-old daughter, but then caused the girl to be injured in a fall when they shot Hulstedt for no good reason.
One officer may have lied in his statements about the incident to make the shooting seem justified, the judge's ruling states.
The incident unfolded on November 7, 2008, after Hulstedt had a mental breakdown during a fight with his parents.
Under treatment for anxiety and paranoid schizophrenia, he had seen his doctor that morning. At 12:20 p.m., he called police saying there was an "emergency" and he needed then-Governor Janet Napolitano to come to the home. A dispatcher, worried about the baby she heard crying in the background, sent out a top alert to police, who ultimately surrounded the home near Dixileta and 68th Street.
Hulstedt's parents fled the home on the advice of police, and his dad, Walt, told cops that his son had threatened to throw the girl out of a window. Hulstedt opened a door to the house several times, talking to a negotiation team. He reportedly told one officer he would "pile-drive" his daughter into the ground unless his brother was sent to the home.
Twenty minutes later, at about 2 p.m., he told cops he was coming out. But when he did, he held his baby girl over his head. Officers yelled to put the kid down.
One officer later told investigators he could have shot Hulstedt with a Taser, but he was worried the shock would cause the man to drop the girl, injuring her.
Sergeant James Dorer, standing 24 feet away, and Sergeant Richard Slavin, 96 feet away, decided to open fire. Of the four shots they fired, three hit Hulstedt from behind. His daughter suffered a skull fracture when she fell six feet to the pavement.
The failure to issue a warning before shooting the unarmed man was bad enough, Snow stated.
But "by shooting David, the officers caused the very harm that a reasonable officer could believe that David posed to (the child)," Snow wrote.
Snow's ruling awarded summary judgment to the paralyzed man on his claims that Scottsdale PD had committed excessive force and battery. Snow dismissed several of the lawsuit's claims against officers and the city of Scottsdale, but allowed several others to stand for a potential upcoming trial.
Alan Simpson, attorney for the Hulstedts, says it's too early to declare victory in the case because the city has appealed Snow's ruling. He declined further comment, except to say that Snow seemed to "appreciate" the rarity of a summary judgment order in a case like this.
Scottsdale police also declined comment, noting that the case was still pending.
Snow's ruling declined to dismiss one of the lawsuit's claims that Officer Daniel Greene, one of the officers at the scene, had "intentionally lied" about the facts of the shooting.
Greene told fellow officers who interviewed him that it "appeared that David had 'smashed her face,' and that 'her left side of her face was deformed.'" Greene stated twice that blood was coming from the left side of her face, and that Hulstedt had dropped the girl from a height of only two-to-three feet, implying that her injuries couldn't have come from the fall.
Greene's incorrect statements were repeated to the public by the department's spokesman.
"The toddler's head injury was not a result from the fall that occurred when police shot at the suspect," Sergeant Mark Clark told an Arizona Republic reporter at the time.
The truth was plainly seen, however, in a video of the incident made by the Hulstedt's neighbor, Michael Pospisil. Hulstedt's holding the girl above his head, then drops her immediately after the first "pop" of a gunshot.
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"A reasonable jury could find that Officer Greene fabricated his statement to convince others that (the girl) was not injured in the fall and that David had injured her in the house, in an effort to make the officers appear justified in shooting David," Snow wrote.
If true, Snow noted, the lie wasn't just a corrupt act to protect a cop's buddies. It may have impeded medical care for the girl because paramedics didn't get the correct info about what happened to her. As it was, the girl was released from the hospital a few days later and has apparently recovered from her injuries -- unlike her father, who was paralyzed.
If this case shows that Snow doesn't always side with law enforcement, opponents of Sheriff Joe Arpaio may want to take note: Snow's the same judge now pondering what to do in the Arpaio racial profiling case.