The court bypassed the issue of whether the stop was a
legitimate welfare check
Today at 9:29 AM
On the opening day of deer season, a wildlife officer
approached a van parked on the side of a road. Just before, the officer had
seen hunters walking out of the woods.
The driver, Shane Cataline, was acting strangely but
produced his driver's license when asked. A state trooper stopped to back up
the wildlife officer.
As the wildlife officer was checking Cataline’s license,
Cataline called 911 and said: “I am in a lot of trouble…I think I am going to
be disappearing.” Cataline hung up without further conversation. Unaware of the
call, the wildlife officer told Cataline that he was free to go.
The 911 call taker notified the state patrol supervisor, who
then directed the trooper to stop Cataline
for a welfare check. The trooper and wildlife officer followed
Cataline, and though they saw no traffic violation, stopped him and instructed
him to turn off the engine. Cataline silently stared straight ahead and did not
turn off the motor.
After ignoring three requests, Cataline put the van into
reverse, turned and drove the van west in the eastbound lanes. Cataline then
made another turn and drove into the side of the trooper’s car, pinning the
trooper behind the hyperextended door.
The wildlife officer jumped on top of the trooper’s car and
shot Cataline, who died at the scene. His mother sued, alleging the stop
was unconstitutional and therefore any use of force, including the
shooting, was unreasonable.
The court held the wildlife officer was entitled to
qualified immunity. The court bypassed the issue of whether the stop was a
legitimate welfare check. In Los
Angeles v. Mendez (137 S. Ct. 1539 (2017)), the Supreme Court held
officers who make errors that lead them into a situation in which they are
threatened do not lose the ability to lawfully
defend themselves, in spite of their mistaken conduct. Thus, even if the
stop was unlawful, the officers were entitled to protect themselves against
The plaintiff argued that Cataline may have put his hands up
in surrender after crashing into the trooper’s car. However, the officers
denied this, and as the court observed, the only person who could conceivably
contradict the officers was dead. The video recording showed the trooper was
limping after being pinned to his car and screaming after being struck.
Insofar as the plaintiff sought damages for a purported
Fourth Amendment violation of unlawful seizure in the traffic stop, the court
held the stop was proper. The context of the 911 call, coupled with Cataline’s
strange behavior at the initial contact, would lead a reasonable officer to be
concerned Cataline could be excessively tired or under the influence of drugs
and that he posed a risk to himself or others on the road.
qualified immunity for shooting prone suspect in the back
About the author
Ken Wallentine is the chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police
Department and former chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General.
He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor
of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of
the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death
and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil
litigation across the nation.