Albuquerque, NM – The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a methamphetamine-fueled woman who was shot while nearly running over two New Mexico State Police (NMSP) officers during a successful escape attempt should be allowed to pursue her claims of excessive force against the officers.
The NMSP officers have argued that Roxanne Torres was driving directly at them at a high rate of speed when they shot her on July 15, 2014, Courthouse News Service reported.
“I began to fire at the driver to stop that vehicle,” NMSP Officer Janice Madrid said after the suspect allegedly stomped on the accelerator and tried to mow them down, according to the news outlet. “I didn’t believe that I was going home. I was waiting for the impact.”
Torres managed to escape and wasn’t arrested until after she’d already taken herself to a hospital, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-3 majority opinion that the “application of physical force with the intent to restrain” still qualifies as a seizure, even if the suspect “does not submit and is not subdued,” CNN reported.
The case was remanded to the lower court to determine whether or not the officers’ actions violated Torres Fourth Amendment rights barring unreasonable search and seizure.
Justice Neil Gorsuch blasted the ruling in his dissenting opinion, which was also endorsed by Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, CNN reported.
“The majority’s need to resort to such a schizophrenic reading of the word ‘seizure’ should be a signal that something has gone seriously wrong,” Gorsuch wrote. “Today, for the first time, the majority seeks to equate seizures and criminal arrests with mere touches, attempted seizures and batteries.”
The officers’ attorney, Mark Standridge, said Torres’ lawsuit should be a moot point because police never took custody of her or had her under their control, CNN reported.
“A seizure under the Fourth Amendment occurs when a police officer acquires physical possession, custody, or control over a suspect,” Standridge asserted. “From the time of the founding to the present, and as a matter of common sense, the acquisition of physical control over a person has been necessary to effectuate a seizure. ”
The incident occurred outside an Albuquerque apartment complex on July 15, 2014, as NMSP Officer Madrid and Officer Richard Williamson were trying to serve an arrest warrant, according to the Supreme Court’s 47-page decision.
The warrant was for another female suspected of being involved in a murder, drug trafficking, and other offenses, Courthouse News Service reported.
The officers spotted two people standing outside the complex, but one of them ran into the building as the officers approached.
When they tried to speak with the other individual, later identified as Torres, she ignored them and jumped into the driver’s seat of a Toyota FJ Cruiser, according to the court.
She later claimed she thought the officers – who were wearing badges and police vests – were carjackers.
According to court records, Torres was going through “methamphetamine withdrawal” at the time, CNN reported.
She threw the car into drive, stomped on the gas, and rapidly accelerated towards the officers, according to police.
The officers said they fired at Torres because they believed she was trying to kill them, Courthouse News Services reported.
Torres was hit by two rounds, but still managed to jump a curb and barrel through some landscaping to get out onto an open street, according to CNN.
She sped off, ultimately crashing into another vehicle before she stole a different car and drove 75 miles to a hospital.
Torres, who had an outstanding warrant out for her own arrest, provided hospital personnel with a fake name but was ultimately identified and placed under arrest, CNN reported.
After pleading no contest to charges of assaulting a police officer, fleeing, and stealing a vehicle, she went on to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming the officers used excessive force when they tried to apprehend her in the parking lot.
The officers were previously cleared of any wrongdoing with regards to the officer-involved shooting, Courthouse News Service reported.