Peace-Officer Immunity – Deadly Force


Ex parte City of Montgomery, et al., [Ms. SC-2023-0735, Apr. 19, 2024] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2024). The Court (Stewart, J.; Parker, C.J., and Shaw, Bryan, Sellers, Mendheim, Mitchell, and Cook, JJ., concur; Wise, J., recuses) issues a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss a wrongful death action against the City of Montgomery (“the City”), and detectives Kenneth F. Davis, Joseph D. Favor, and Michael T. Shirah on grounds of peace officer immunity.

The officers responded to a home on Kiwanis Street in response to reports of a stolen vehicle. Ms. *2. An individual at the home, later identified as Holly Rene Knighton, ignored officers’ commands to stop and instead entered a vehicle. Detectives Favor and Shirah attempted to prevent Knighton from closing the driver’s door of the vehicle. When she put the vehicle in reverse knocking down Officers Favor and Shirah, Detective Davis fatally shot Knighton. Ms. **2-3.

The Court first explains that the “parties do not dispute whether the detectives were exercising judgment and discretion, within the line and scope of their duties as peace officers, as required by §6-5-338 [Ala. Code 1975, peace officer immunity] and [Ex parte City of Homewood, 231 So. 3d 1082, 1087 (Ala. 2017), state -agent immunity].” Ms. *9.

Montgomery Police Department Rules and Regulations require that “‘Deadly force may be used in defense of life when authorized by State law in the performance of lawful duty when all other reasonable means have been exhausted.’” Ms. *10 (emphasis in the original). Plaintiff argued that the detectives approached the vehicle with their guns drawn and violated the policy because they “did not leave room for any means other than deadly force. ...” Ms. *10. The Court rejects this argument because 1) Detective Davis, who did not approach the vehicle with his gun drawn, was the only officer who shot the decedent and 2) the policy did not prohibit officers from drawing their guns when approaching a potentially dangerous situation presented by an individual attempting to flee in a suspected stolen vehicle. Ms. **10-11.

The Court also rejects plaintiff’s argument that Davis violated §13A-3-27, Ala. Code 1975, which provides, in pertinent relevant part: “(b) A peace officer is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary in order: …. (2) To defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.” The Court concludes

The undisputed facts indicate that when the detectives attempted to stop Knighton, she entered the allegedly stolen vehicle and attempted to flee. As the detectives surrounded the vehicle, she ignored their commands to exit the vehicle and, instead, accelerated the vehicle in reverse, knocking down Favor and Shirah and leaving Favor in a position on the ground in front of the vehicle near the driver’s side front tire. Undisputed testimony further indicated that Knighton’s only route of escape would have required her to drive straight ahead and, thus, over Favor. Under the circumstances, it is clear from the undisputed facts that Favor was in a position of imminent life-threatening peril, and we reject the plaintiff’s contention that, under such circumstances, any applicable law or regulation required Davis to wait until Favor was actively being run over before he acted.

Ms. *12.

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