SCOTTSDALE, AZ — The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether to overturn a lower court ruling, which dismissed a lawsuit alleging excessive force and wrongful death against Scottsdale police.
A Scottsdale officer fatally shot Dylan Liberti, 24, on July 27, 2016. He and another officer had responded to a shopping center for a welfare check after a 911 hang-up call.
Liberti who had used drugs, was polite, but he ignored officers' commands to sit down. When an officer tried to force him down, the situation quickly escalated and ended in a shooting two minutes later. Liberti died.
A key question in the appeals court oral arguments Thursday was whether Scottsdale police made a false arrest when they tried to physically detain Liberti. The judges questioned whether such a false arrest could make Scottsdale civilly liable in a wrongful death case under Arizona law.
An attorney for Scottsdale argued there was probable cause for the arrest because Liberti appeared to be under the influence of drugs in a public place, which is a crime. Autopsy results confirmed Liberti had methamphetamines in his system, but there was no explanation on the drug level necessary for public intoxication.
A lawyer representing the City of Scottsdale argued the shooting itself was justified, based on several rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in similar cases. Liberti, after an initial struggle and foot chase, produced a small knife and started running in an officer's direction. The officer shot Liberti twice.
More than a year ago, a federal district court judge dismissed the Liberti family's lawsuit in a summary judgment. Judge Douglas Rayes wrote the officers acted reasonably in use of force and were protected by qualified immunity.