In Cruz v. City of Anaheim, published August 28, 2014, the 9th Circuit reversed summary judgment granted to the defendant city and officers in a police shooting case. A confidential informant told one of the defendant officers that the decedent was carrying a 9 mm gun in his waistband, that decedent was not going back to prison, and decedent's location. The officers pulled the decedent over for a broken tail light. When the officers surrounded his vehicle, he tried to escape, backing into one of the marked cars in the process. When he stopped, police surrounded his vehicle with weapons drawn. He openend the door. Police shouted at him to get on the ground. According to four officers, they saw him reach for his waistband. An independent witness could see only the decedent's head and feet at the time. The officers shot and killed decedent. Afterward, decedent's body was tangled in and hanging from the seatbelt. No weapon was in his waistband, but a loaded 9 mm with the safety on was recovered from the passenger seat.
The 9th Circuit agreed that if the decedent reached for his waistband when the officers ordered him out of the car, the officers would be justified in opening fire, whether or not he actually had a gun. If he did not reach for his waistband, they would not be justified. Whether summary judgment should be granted therefore came down to whether a reasonable jury could find it more likely than not that the decedent did not reach for his waistband. Because only the officers saw him reach for the waistband, and decedent could not testify, the court had to carefully examine all the evidence in the record to determine whether the officers' stories were internally consistent and consistent with other known facts, including circumstantial evidence that, if believed, would tend to discredit the officer's story. Here, that evidence included that decedent did not have a gun in his waistband (raising a question of why he would reach for it); the fact he was tangled in his seatbelt; that one of the officers gave the exact same explanation when shooting another unarmed man earlier under similar circumstances; and that four officers stated they had a line of sight to decedent's hand as he stood between an open car door and an SUV. Whether the officers were indeed discredited by these facts was an issue for the jury.