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Cruz v. City of Anaheim

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 28, 2014

JENNIFER CRUZ, Individually and on behalf of the estate of Ceasar Cruz, and as guardian ad litem for R.C., C.C., C.C., and M.C., all minors; THERESA SMITH, Individually, and as guardian ad litem for M.C., a minor; LEONARD CRUZ, Individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE CITY OF ANAHEIM, a Governmental Entity; CHIEF JOHN WELTER; DEPUTY CHIEF CRAIG HUNTER; OFFICER MICHAEL BROWN, Individually; OFFICER BRUCE LINN, Individually; OFFICER KELLY PHILLIPS, Individually; OFFICER NATHAN STAUBER, Individually; OFFICER PHILLIP VARGAS, Individually, Defendants-Appellees

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California January 10, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. 2:10-cv-03997-MMM-JEM. Margaret M. Morrow, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

Civil Rights

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's summary judgment and remanded in an action brought by the relatives of Ceasar Cruz, who was shot and killed by City of Anaheim police officers.

Four of the officers alleged that they shot Cruz after he exited his vehicle and reached for what they believed was a gun in the waistband of his pants. The panel held that given the curious and material factual discrepancies, including that Cruz did not have a gun on him and was still suspended by his seat belt when he was shot, the district court erred in ruling that only an unreasonable or speculative jury could disbelieve the officers' version of events. As to those individual officers and the City defendants (the City of Anaheim, Chief Welter and Deputy Chief Hunter), the panel reversed the district court's summary judgment. The panel made no determination about the officers' credibility, leaving that issue to the jury. The panel affirmed the summary judgment in favor of a fifth officer, who testified that he couldn't see whether Cruz reached for his waistband, but fired because he perceived an immediate threat when he heard gunshots.

Richard P. Herman (argued) of Newport Beach, California for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Michael R.W. Houston and Gregg M. Audet (argued) of the City Attorney's Office of Anaheim, California for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Richard R. Clifton, Circuit Judge, and Jed S. Rakoff, Senior District Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 1077

KOZINSKI, Chief Judge:

Nobody likes a game of " he said, she said," but far worse is the game of " we said, he's dead." Sadly, this is too often what we face in police shooting cases like this one.

I.

In early December 2009, a confidential informant told Anaheim police officer Nathan Stauber that Ceasar Cruz was a gang member who sold methamphetamine and carried a gun. Following this lead, Stauber determined that Cruz was a discharged parolee whose prior convictions included a felony involving a firearm. ...


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