Court: DeKalb officer acted reasonably when fatally shooting Navy vet in 2017

A DeKalb County police officer acted lawfully when she shot and killed a mentally ill U.S. Navy veteran who had already been shot three times, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled Monday.

Quintas “Shun” Harris was killed Aug. 2, 2017, after he opened fire on three DeKalb officers, leading them to fire 58 bullets at him, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion said. Judge Kevin Newsom, writing for the court, called what happened “a tragic case, from beginning to end.”

The case is tragic for the 27-year-old Harris and his “grieving family — his mother and two children, who lost a son and father,” Newsom said. “And it’s tragic for Milele Anderson — the officer who discharged the fatal shot and who now lives with the memories of Mr. Harris holding a gun to her head, the images of him shooting at one of her colleagues and the reality that she took a life.”

Harris, who was discharged from the Navy in 2011, suffered from psychosis and was stammering about “death or dying” that night. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution following the incident, his mother said she begged him to take his medicine.

“If you don’t get back on your medication, you’re going to end up dead, in jail or in a mental health hospital,” Iwoinakee Harris-Billups said she told her son.

Close to midnight on Aug. 2, police responded to a call at the Maple Walk Apartments and encountered Harris, who eventually put a gun to Anderson’s head. The officer drew her sidearm and Harris backed off, only to point his gun at her partner, the opinion said. A third officer arrived and a standoff ensued, with Harris threatening to kill them all, including himself.

When Harris backed into his car, a gun fell to the ground, leading the officers to believe he was unarmed, the ruling said. But Harris drew a second gun and eventually opened fire. The officers responded by unleashing a five-second barrage of 54 bullets. When Harris emerged from his car, Anderson fired three more times and Harris fell to the ground, the ruling said.

Of the 57 bullets fired, three struck Harris. On the ground, he lurched violently, kicking out his legs and swinging his arms, the ruling said. Upon seeing that, Anderson fired once more, killing him.

Acting as the administrator of Harris’ estate, Harris-Billups filed suit against Anderson. The issue before the appeals court was whether Anderson committed an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment when she fired the fatal shot. It held that she did not.

“Having reviewed the record — and, most importantly, having repeatedly reviewed the bodycam footage of the incident — we hold ... that she acted reasonably,” Newsom wrote. “Particularly given all that had preceded it, a prudent officer witnessing Mr. Harris’ lurch could have thought that he was gearing up for yet another attack. In those circumstances, it was reasonable — and thus lawful — for Officer Anderson to shoot when she did.”