Original article no longer available
Napa Valley News
Saturday, May 7, 2005
By DAVID KRAVETS, AP Legal Affairs Writer
SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court on Friday dismissed the civil rights suit brought by a man who survived multiple shots from Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies, who fired at him after he was reported wandering his Orangevale neighborhood waiving a 30-inch Civil War-era sword.
The man, 25-year-old Matthew Blanford, who is now wheelchair bound, was shot at least eight times, several times in the back, as he tried to enter the house where he lives with his parents.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in deciding 2-1 to dismiss the suit, said the deputies’ use of force was reasonable given the bizarre circumstances that led to the incident.
On Nov. 13, 2000, neighbors reported a man licking a sword and waving it as he walked through the neighborhood, sometimes in the middle of the street. Two police officers responded and walked up behind him. They ordered him to drop the weapon, and Blanford did not respond.
Blanford, who was heavily medicated on antidepressants, was listening to music on headphones, but his head was covered by a snowcap and the headphones were not visible to the officers. The officers feared Blanford may use the sword on them or bystanders.
They followed Blanford, still carrying the sword, to the front door of what turned out to be his residence. Under the close watch of the officers who were several feet away, he went to the front door, fumbled for his keys, did not have them and knocked. When nobody answered, he went to the side of the house to go through a gate, and the officers yelled “drop the sword.”
He looked at the officers but did not comply. As he got to the gate, both officers fired. Blanford then tried to open the door leading to the garage after he went through the gate, and was shot in the wrist. Then a volley of shots rang out, some hitting him in the back and hands. The shooting left him a paraplegic.
He sued, seeking damages, claiming excessive force. A lower court judge tossed the case, ruling Blanford “presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to persons inside the house or yard.”
A majority of the appeals court agreed, dismissing claims that Blanford, now a student at Sierra College, was not a threat to the officers or anybody else.
“The deputies had cause to believe that Blanford posed a serious danger to themselves and to anyone in the house or yard that he was intent upon accessing, because he failed to heed warnings or commands and was armed with an edged weapon that he refused to put down,” wrote Judge Pamela Rymer, who was joined by Judge David Thompson.
In dissent, Judge John T. Noonan said that, at the time Blanford was shot, “he was not threatening the police or any other known person, and he was not attempting to escape.” He added that “The case is one that demands judgment by the citizens of Sacramento County assembled as a jury, not immunity for the injury-inflicting police.”
Blanford’s attorney, Stewart Katz, decried the ruling, and agreed with the dissent. “They shouldn’t have shot him.” Katz said he would ask the court to rehear the case with 11 judges. Lawyers for the Sacramento county and the officers, Brett Anderson and Todd Hengel, did not immediately return calls.