1983 Suit Against a Sheriff For Mistakenly Using A Gun to Injure Plaintiff Instead of a Taser, And Sentencing Matter

By FindLaw Staff on September 24, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

US v. Vann, 09-4298, concerned a challenge to the district court's imposition of an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) based on defendant's three previous convictions for taking indecent liberties with a child, in a prosecution for possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 922(g).  In affirming, the court held that the defendant's three prior convictions were based on his taking indecent liberties with a child by willfully committing a lewd or lascivious act upon the body of a child under the age of 16.  Further, as so formulated, defendant's convictions were for violent felonies that serve as predicate offenses under the ACCA.


Henry v. Purnell, 08-7433, concerned a challenge to the district court's conclusion that a sheriff's mistake was reasonable in granting his motion for summary judgment, in plaintiff's section 1983 suit against the deputy sheriff claiming that the sheriff used excessive force in effecting his arrest by mistakenly drawing his firearm to shoot the plaintiff instead of his taser.  In reversing in part, the court held that the district court erred in limiting the scope of its Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis to the adequacy of the sheriff's weapons training, instead of examining the totality of the circumstances.  The court also held that the district court's determination that the sheriff's conduct was reasonable as a matter of law was in error as, at this stage of the proceedings, there remain material factual issues in dispute on the failure to warn, to utilize the laser sight, and to distinguish the different safety locks, all of which are relevant to a decision on the objective reasonableness of the seizure.  However, the court held that the sheriff is entitled to summary judgment in his favor on plaintiff's section 1983 claim as, although it cannot be determined whether the sheriff's mistaken use of his firearm was objectionably reasonable under the circumstances, it can be said that he lacked "fair notice" regarding the potential unlawfulness of his actions.  Lastly, district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's state-law claim is reversed and remanded for the district court to determine whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this claim.

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