Officer Reasonable Belief Protects Against Nosy, Nose-less Assailant

by | September 26, 2018

Mazoch v. Carrizales, 733 Fed. Appx. 179 (5th Cir. 2018)

Two officers were investigating a neighborhood gang shooting in Stafford, Texas. Jay Mazoch drove up to the officers, lowered his car window and asked why the officers were in the neighborhood. Mazoch made several requests for the officers to not be nosy and leave the area, then drove a short distance, turned his car around, and drove back toward the officers.

This time the officers decided to detain Mazoch and told him to turn off his car. When Mazoch didn’t comply after several requests, one of the officers reached through the open window to unlock the car door. Mazoch raised the window, trapping the officer’s arm. The second officer attempted to help, but Mazoch trapped her arm as well.

Mazoch accelerated the car, moving forward about 20 feet. When he stopped, the car window shattered and both officers fell to the street. One officer had significant injuries to her arms and hands. The other officer fell in front of the car and could no longer see her partner. Believing that her partner was trapped under Mazoch’s car, she stood and shot Mazoch in the nose.

Mazoch plead guilty to two counts of aggravated assault on an officer. He then sued the officers, claiming that he was done committing crimes at the second he was shot. Mazoch said his hands were no longer on the steering wheel, sending a clear signal he was done assaulting the officers. (Nothing in the court case mentions whether his foot was off the gas pedal.)

In the civil suit against the officers, Mazoch made a creative, and twisted, argument. He noted the crimes for which he’d been convicted were completed at the exact moment the officers hit the street and were injured. Therefore, he was not actually committing a crime at the very nanosecond in which he lost his nose to a bullet.

Mazoch may have lost his ability to snort, but the court easily sniffed out the stench of Texas-sized bullpucky. The court stated, “there is no basis to limit our reasonableness inquiry to what is stated in a criminal indictment involving the same incident. On the contrary, we are concerned with the severity of the crime from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.” The court’s clear constitutional duty is to consider the facts from the “the perspective of an officer in real-time.” The officer could have reasonably believed that Mazoch, still in full control of the weapon (his car) used to assault both officers, could imminently harm her or her partner. Thus, Mazoch’s claim that the officers used excessive force failed.

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.

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