The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has re-opened the door for a wrongful death lawsuit against Columbus Police officers Zachary Rosen and Jason Bare, over the fatal shooting of Henry Green in 2016.
Tuesday's ruling sends the case back to the district court level. A judge there previously dismissed the case against the officers, as well as the city and police officials.
In 2016, officers Rosen and Bare, both in plainclothes, jumped from an unmarked vehicle to confront Green, who they say brandished a gun. According to court documents, the officers said Green shot at them, before they returned fire and killed him. Green's family and a friend walking with him contend that Rosen and Bare didn't identify themselves as police.
In March 2017, a grand jury declined to indict the officers, saying the use of deadly force was reasonable, and they were cleared by an internal Columbus Police investigation. Green's family filed a federal lawsuit in June 2017 against Rosen, Bare and the city alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations.
While the Sixth Circuit's three-member panel agreed the case against the city and police higher-ups should be dismissed, the judges did not believe the officers should be granted qualified immunity. That protection, which has come under intense scrutiny this year amid protests over police violence, often shields officers from the legal ramifications of conduct carried out in the course of their official duties.
The appeals court determined that Rosen and Bare should not be granted immunity for the shots they fired at Green when he was no longer a threat.
"Several witnesses stated that the Officers here continued to shoot Green after he dropped his gun and was falling or already on the ground," the ruling reads. "Our precedents provide 'fair warning' to the Officers that shooting at Green after he was no longer a safety threat is unconstitutional."
In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Ralph Guy writes that, "In my view, no reasonable juror could find there was a point at which an objectively reasonable officer would have known that Green was no longer a threat."
Guy contends the gunfire unfolded in just five seconds, and so he would uphold the district court ruling, which treated all the shots fired as a single incident, in full.