“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Eighth Circuit Trump judge Jonathan Kobes cast the deciding vote in a 2-1 panel ruling dismissing a lawsuit by an Arkansas man against the police officer who shot him. The April 2020 case is Goffin v. Ashcraft.
Davdrin Goffin was sitting alone in the passenger seat of his car at a mechanics’ shop when he was approached by police officers in Warren, Arkansas. They suspected Goffin of having just committed a burglary and stealing firearms and ammunition. Having been told by a witness that he was carrying two handguns with him, the police conducted a pat-down search when Goffin got out of the car and found no firearms. Goffin then tried to run away. Within a split second, Officer Robbie Ashcraft shot him in the back, later testifying that she thought he might be reaching for a weapon.
Goffin sued Ashcraft for using unconstitutionally excessive force. Judge Kobes wrote an opinion for a divided panel dismissing the case on the basis that Officer Ashcraft had qualified immunity from lawsuit. Kobes wrote that Ashcraft was not on notice that shooting the suspect despite a pat-down that produced no weapon was unconstitutional, because prior case law had not specifically covered that situation.
In dissent, Judge Jane Kelly noted that a jury could find that Ashcraft’s actions were not objectively reasonable. The law was clearly established long ago that deadly force cannot be used unless a suspect poses a “significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” That was clear even if previous cases did not specifically involve someone running away from the police after a pat-down search revealing no weapons. The pat-down search did not make the law inapplicable, she explained. Instead, it could influence a jury’s evaluation as to whether Ashcroft’s actions were objectively reasonable.
But Judge Kobes ensured that Goffin will not be able to present his case to a jury.