FARGO, North Dakota — Three law enforcement officers who shot a Jamestown man after he came out of his apartment carrying a shotgun did not use excessive force and should not face legal action for the 2010 incident, a federal appeals court says.
Michael Partlow, who was hospitalized for about three weeks following the shooting, sued officers Joseph Stadler, Michael Craig and Sidney Mann in 2012. The officers appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower federal court declined to dismiss the complaint.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit said in a 2-1 decision released this week that the officers' actions were "objectively reasonable."
Partlow's lawyer, Timothy O'Keeffe, said he would likely ask the full 8th Circuit to hear the case.
"We were pretty surprised by the opinion and disappointed they didn't seem to address one of the main jurisdictional issues we raised," O'Keeffe said Wednesday. "We will see what happens next.
Partlow said in his lawsuit that he was bending down to place the gun on the ground when the officers opened fire. The appeals court said that even if the officers were mistaken about Partlow pointing the gun at them, they had cause to believe that Partlow posed a threat.
"Even if Partlow intended to do no harm to the offices as he moved the shotgun, the officers' use of force was objectively reasonable," Judge Roger L Wollman said in a ruling backed by Chief Judge William Jay Riley. "They had no way of knowing what Partlow planned to do."
Judge Kermit Bye objected to giving the officers qualified immunity and said a jury should decide whether the officers used excessive force. Partlow's evidence, Bye said, raises a "question of fact regarding whether Partlow did, in fact, move the shotgun in a way which the officers could have reasonably perceived as threatening."
Partlow had been making suicidal threats after a night of drinking and his sister called police while he was locked in the apartment. He eventually came out of the apartment building carrying a shotgun and talking on his cellphone to his grandmother, his attorneys said.
Partlow was "startled and surprised" to see the officers there and received no warning from them, according to the lawsuit.
One bullet entered Partlow's left temple and exited below his right eye, causing him to lose his left eye. He also suffered gunshot wounds to his hip, calf and hands, and the injury to his hands required the amputation of two fingers and a thumb, according to the suit.
A jury convicted Partlow on a terrorizing charge in March. He received a suspended sentence and was ordered to serve five years of supervised probation, pay $550 in fees and complete 150 hours of community service.