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Question 1: Were his civil rights violated?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Qualified immunity isn’t a police officer’s first line of defense in a use-of-force case in federal court.

Miguel Gonzalez

It comes into play only after there is a decision that the plaintiff’s civil rights were violated.

On July 4, 2017, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Coggins was involved in a car and foot chase with Miguel Gonzalez after the license plate on the red Monte Carlo sedan Gonzalez was driving came back as stolen.

Gonzalez had led deputies on a high-speed chase through the South Valley when the vehicle he was driving jumped a curb.

He then fled on foot with Coggins in pursuit. After jumping fences, Coggins found Gonzalez in a dark backyard.

Coggins said Gonzalez told him, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” Coggins said Gonzalez then extended his arm toward him.

Deputy Charles Coggins

The deputy fired, killing Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was armed, but the pistol was found in his holster and not in his hand. His family sued, claiming Coggins violated Gonzalez’s civil rights.

The simple answer to whether Gonzalez’s civil rights were violated is “no.”

How the court reached that answer is more complicated.

Coggins and Bernalillo County were represented by Luis Robles in the case, who said federal courts examine several factors involving police use of force under a 1989 Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor.

Those include:

• The severity of the crime at issue.

• Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others.

• Whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

“The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” the Supreme Court ruled in the Graham case.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales ruled all those tests were met before Coggins fired his weapon and that as a result the plaintiffs failed to show he had violated Gonzalez’s civil rights.

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