Quick verdict: police did not violate rights of rifle-wielding man

PoliceOne Staff Report
(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) -- File it under: no good turn goes unpunished.

A federal jury found Santa Rosa police and city officials not guilty of violating the constitutional rights of a rifle-wielding man subdued using non-lethal tactics.

John Gilligan, 63, sued city officials, Police Chief Mike Dunbaugh and a dozen members of the police department for violating his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights after he was shot twice by police with beanbags, the Press Democrat reported last week.

On June 29, 1998, police responded to a call at an apartment building to find Gilligan with an assault rifle sitting in a lounge chair by the pool. Not only did Gilligan refuse to step away from the weapon when asked, he told police that he would shoot anyone who came near him, the newspaper reported

It was then that police shot him twice with the non-lethal beanbag shotgun.

Police said they found chemicals, how-to manuals and bomb parts when they searched Gilligan's apartment and truck.

Gilligan was convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison for refusing to heed police, but was paroled last Fall.

Earlier this year he filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Judge Maxine M. Chesney dismissed the majority of the case after closing arguments, but did allow the jury to decide if police used lethal force. Their deliberation took minutes.

"When the jury came back, their comments were: 'Why did they waste so much time?'" before using the beanbag shotgun, Santa Rosa City Attorney Rene Chouteau told the Press Democrat. "They made a decision that saved his life, and instead of saying thanks, he sued them."

Although relieved by the jury's decision, Dunbaugh was dismayed that the department was put in the position of defending itself.

"I'm very proud that even though we got sued and it cost the taxpayers money to defend their officers, these were men and women who were willing to take risks and use less-lethal force, when in this case deadly force would have been justified," he told the Press Democrat. "The community should be very proud of that."

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