Law Offices of Popper & Yatvin
Popper & Yatvin Success in the 3rd Circuit sets
Standard for Reasonableness in Police Use of
Deadly Force

On Saturday, October 15, 1994, Robert Abraham suffered a gunshot wound
from a bullet which entered his body in his left armpit, killing him.  The crime
for which this unemployed 22 year-old black father of three, without a prior
record, was executed was shoplifting clothes.  His killer was a Cherry Hill
police officer moonlighting as a security officer at the Cherry Hill Mall, who had
a long and well documented history of mental illness, substance abuse,
contempt for authority, disregard of rules and regulations, abuse of citizens,
assaultiveness, confrontation, violation of police department polices, and who,
on the day in question, was suffering from a long term anxiety disorder, and
was under the influence of the mood altering prescribed drugs Xanax and
Prozac.

Abraham v. Raso presented the problem of how to prove an excessive force
case when the victim is dead and the other witnesses are all aligned with the
defense.  The officer claimed she fired as she rolled across the hood of
decedent’s car as he tried to run her down.  However, she had no injuries and
there was no physical evidence of the events she described.  There was a
Macy’s security camera recording the events in the parking lot, but it cut away
from the scene for a crucial 15 seconds during which time the car backed out
of the parking space and the shot was fired, only to return as the car with the
mortally wounded decedent rolled up the aisle.  The District Court concluded
that it had to accept the version of the officer and her fellow security guards
and granted summary judgment for defendants.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found numerous
disputed issues of material fact which precluded summary judgment.  
Additionally, the Court refused to join the circuits which have held that the
reasonableness of an officer’s use of force is only to be gauged at the
moment of the use of force, without regard to the events leading up to the use
of force.  Instead, the Third Circuit joined the First Circuit in holding that the
entirety of the circumstances leading to the use of force must be examined in
evaluating the reasonableness of the officer’s actions.  In other words, the
courts will look to see if the officer unreasonably precipitated a situation which
then resulted in a use of force.

Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279 (3d Cir. 1999).
The information in
these case
summaries is purely
from our
perspective,
and
does not present
opposing views or
arguments.  The
summaries should not
be deemed
complete
or
authoritative.