A California deputy who shot at a suspect 18 times, then took a running start to stomp his head three times can be sued for excessive force, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Orange County deputy Michael Higgins was captured on his dash cam video initially shooting 21-year-old Connor Zion after the sheriff’s department received a call regarding a knife-wielding suspect.
Higgins can be seen on dash cam video initially shooting at Zion nine times.
After Zion falls to the ground, Higgins fires nine more shots, emptying his clip.
Higgins then takes a running start and stomps Zion’s head three times, the video shows.
United States Court of Appeals Judge for the Ninth Circuit Alex Kozinski said Higgins’ actions were excessive.
“A reasonable officer would then reassess the situation rather than continue shooting. This is particularly true when the suspect wields a knife rather than a firearm.”
“When police confront a suspect who poses an immediate threat, they may use deadly force against him,” Judge Kozinski wrote in his opinion, which can be read below.
“But they must stop using deadly force when the suspect no longer poses a threat.”
“While Higgins couldn’t be sure that Zion wasn’t bluffing or only temporarily subdued, Zion was lying on the ground and so was not in a position where he could easily harm anyone or flee,” Kozinski added.
Judge Kozinski stated a jury might find that Zion did not pose an immediate threat after he fell to the ground and that Higgins should have held his fire.
“Or, a jury could find that the second round of bullets was justified, but not the head-stomping,” he wrote.
It happened on September 23, 2013 when Kimberly Zion, Connor’s mother received a call from her son’s roommate, who was concerned about the seizures Connor suffered the past few days.
She flew from Washington and arrived at Connor’s Laguna Nigel condo later the same evening.
When Kimberly arrived at the condo, the roommate spoke to her about whether or not Connor had been taking his prescription medications regularly.
That’s when Connor came downstairs with a knife and allegedly stabbed his roommate in the arm before his mother was able to wrestle the knife from her son’s hand and throw it into a patio chimney.
With her hand bloodied, Kimberly sought refuge at a neighboring condo.
At around 7:30 p.m., the Orange County Sheriff’s Department received a call about a man who’d been stabbed and was bleeding in the street.
Orange County deputies Michael Higgins and Juan Lopez arrived separately at the scene to find Connor had rearmed himself with a knife.
A chase ensued and deputy Lopez lost his footing and fell to the ground.
Connor got on top of deputy Lopez and stabbed him twice.
Deputy Higgins exited his patrol car and shot at Connor, who got up and ran before Higgins shot nine times.
Connor fell to the ground before Higgins fired nine more times.
Video shows deputy Higgins following up by kicking Conner, who was still moving, in the head three times rendering him unconscious.
Jerry L. Steering, the attorney for Kimberly Connor who filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month the videos show and act of revenge.
“We interviewed the same witnesses in the report,” Steering told the OCWeekly. “You can’t rely on what the DA or the Sheriff says. They always omit important facts.”
“Connor’s lying there disabled from two or three bullet wounds and gets pumped full of lead with three kicks to the head.”
“That’s not an act of policing; that’s an act of revenge.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s department later awarded Higgins a medal of valor for saving deputy Lopez’s life, according to the Orange County Register.
Dash cam video of the incident can be seen below along with Judge Kozinski’s opinion.