Richard Salvatore represented local resident Darcie Latham in a Section 1983 excessive force action against the City of Sparks as a result of an interaction with the Sparks Police Department that went horribly wrong.
When Darcie Latham arrived at her mother’s home on October 13, 2013 her mother was hysterical, holding a gun and making suicidal threats. Ms. Latham retreated from the home and called 911. The dispatcher reported the call to officers, and three Sparks Police officers initially responded, each driving their own vehicles. En-route to the scene, the dispatcher reported to the officers that there were three females (Ms. Latham, her sister and her mother), and one of them was threatening to kill herself; that the suicidal female had been taking pain medication, was depressed and was firing shots in the air; that if law enforcement pulled up to her house, that she would kill herself; and, that all three females were standing outside the property.
One office arrived from the south and got out of his vehicle and deployed an AR-15 rifle. The other two officers arrived from the north, initially pulling up to the home and then both backing up their vehicles away from the home. Still on the phone with dispatch, the dispatcher as well as one of the officers on the scene instructed Ms. Latham to get out of the line of fire, and with one hand holding the phone up to her ear and her other hand raised above her head, Latham told the dispatcher that she was going to move across the street, and she slowly backed up across the street.
That officer watched Ms. Latham back across the street from east to the west side of the street. At all times while backing up, Ms. Latham had her phone in one hand and up to her ear and the other hand straight over her head. As Ms. Latham was slowly stepping backwards across the street, still on the phone with dispatch, as she was approaching the west side of the street, one of the officers asked over the radio if the target (the mother) was on the west side of the street. Another officer responded affirmatively via radio and told the officer to take the shot. Unfortunately it was Ms. Latham who was on the west side of the street, not the target, her mother. Ms. Latham was shot.
Two days after the shooting, several top officials from the Sparks Police Department went to the hospital, and talked to Ms. Latham. During that conversation, the Sparks Police Department informed Ms. Latham that it was one of their officers who had mistakenly shot her.
Ms. Latham filed a Section 1983 action in Federal Court which provides, a remedy against “any person” who, under the color of the law, deprives another of his constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must set forth: (1) a deprivation of a federally protected right, and (2) commission of the deprivation by one acting under color of state law. Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 689 (3d Cir.1997). One expert explained with respect to one of the central issues of mistake in this case that when there is conflicting information, which equally identifies and excludes a potential perpetrator, before using deadly force, an officer must obtain more information. Where one piece of information identifies the perpetrator, and a second piece of information excludes a person as the perpetrator, than more information is needed. This discrepancy makes the officer who shot Ms. Latham’s mis-identification, targeting and shooting objectively unreasonable.
After extensive settlement discussions and mediation held in Las Vegas, Nevada, this matter was settled, with Ms. Latham being awarded $400,000 to compensate her for the Sparks Police Officer’s tragic mistake.
Further reading can be found in this article, which covered the case.