Police officers can use reasonable force against another to execute their duties as police officers. So, for example, in the course of a lawful arrest, a cop can force your hands behind your back to handcuff you if you are not agreeing to do so. Or, if someone is robbing a store at gunpoint, the police can shoot the perpetrator if they reasonably believe the person is about to shoot them or someone else.
However, when a cop uses force that is greater than what is reasonably necessary to make an arrest, that is excessive force. That is a violation of the constitution.
Some courts in this country have adapted a “provocation rule.” The rule says that if the police intentionally or recklessly provoke a confrontation through unlawful means, you still may have an excessive force claim even though the cops may have felt reasonably threatened by your actions.
That’s where the case of Angel Mendez and Jennifer Garcia v. the Los Angeles Police Department comes in. Angel and Jennifer are married. They were in bed in their one room home when some cowboy cops of the LAPD busted in without a warrant. Angel had a BB gun nearby his bed. The house had a mouse and rat problem and he used it sometimes to try to kill them.
The police busted in, without knocking, without announcing their presence, and with no warrant. Obviously, Angel and Jennifer were startled, not understanding what was going on. He grabbed the BB gun and the police opened fire, hitting both of them numerous times. They lived, thankfully, but Angel had to have a leg amputated.
The courts concluded that the police were reasonable in their belief that they were threatened by the gun. However, applying the provocation rule, they continued that since the police provoked the confrontation, and that they broke the law and violated the constitution by busting into the home without a warrant, they were nevertheless liable for using excessive force. That seemed like a reasonable and just outcome for a couple who were home taking a nap and seconds later they are shot up by cops.
But the Supreme Court decided to take up the case. In an 8-0 unanimous ruling, so-called liberal and conservative justices together said no, there is no such thing as the provocation rule and that the police did not use excessive force, that the cops’ use of force was reasonable because he was holding a BB gun in his own home. Angel Mendez has no leg, and no justice.