WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court is leaving in place an appeals court decision that the family of a Black driver who was fatally shot by a white police officer in an Ohio city can't sue the city or the officer.
The high court declined on Monday to hear the case involving the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Luke Stewart, which inflamed racial tensions in Euclid, in suburban Cleveland. As is typical, the court did not comment in turning away the case, one of many it declined to hear.
Stewart's family had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after he was shot by Officer Matthew Rhodes in 2017. Stewart's family had contended that police training in the city “encouraged, or at least condoned, excessive force.” The training included the use of a sketch by comedian Chris Rock, in which he gives “tips” on how to avoid being beaten by police, and cartoons allegedly making light of police violence.
Stewart's death came after police responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle and found him sleeping behind the wheel of a car. Police said they believed Stewart was intoxicated and saw signs suggesting drug use. Officers woke Stewart, and Rhodes ultimately got into the car in an attempt to get Stewart out. But Stewart drove away with Rhodes still in the car. The two struggled, and Rhodes shot Stewart, who was unarmed.
A trial court dismissed the case, and an appeals court agreed, saying there was no clearly established law barring the officer’s conduct.
Rhodes won’t face charges in the case after a grand jury declined to indict him after hearing evidence from prosecutors.
The Stewart family's lawsuit came as activists had been criticizing Euclid police for an arrest in which a white officer with a history of disciplinary issues was caught on video punching a Black man more than a dozen times in a traffic stop.
Stewart’s shooting and the traffic stop arrest prompted other people to step forward to complain about police abuse, provoking racial tensions in the city, which is about 46% white and 54% Black, according to 2010 census figures.