JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri appellate court on Tuesday reinstated a state trooper's suspension for shooting a gun out of the hand of a suspect who had threatened suicide.
A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in Kansas City ruled that the Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent's discretion to suspend Sgt. Clay Crowe for improper use of force superseded that of Cole County Circuit Judge Thomas Brown III, who found the shooting justified and ordered the suspension nullified.
Although Crowe may have reasonably believed his action was necessary to prevent the suspect from killing himself, the patrol superintendent had ample evidence to determine the trooper "exercised poor judgment and acted in a manner not consistent with Highway Patrol training in taking the shot," the appeals court said.
"The trial court had no authority to substitute its own discretion for that of the superintendent," Judge Joseph Ellis wrote.
The appeals court said the scope of Brown's review was limited to whether the patrol superintendent had the legal authority to suspend Crowe and not to second-guess the wisdom of doing so.
Crowe was serving as a sniper with the patrol's Springfield-based Troop D on Feb. 5, 2003, when he was dispatched to assist Dallas County deputies in serving a high-risk arrest warrant on Jim Payne, who was wanted on numerous charges and believed to be armed and dangerous.
Payne refused to surrender and threatened to kill himself with a handgun to avoid arrest. After repeated attempts by officers and a family member to talk Payne down, Crowe fired one shot from his rifle and knocked the pistol from the suspect's hand. Payne was immediately restrained and treated for a superficial wound to his hand.
After an internal investigation of the incident, patrol Superintendent Roger Stottlemyre ordered Crowe be suspended without pay for one day. In issuing the punishment, Stottlemyre said that although loss of life was avoided, Crowe's action violated patrol policies and "could easily had a disastrous outcome." At the hearing in which Crowe challenged the suspension, Stottlemyre testified that troopers aren't trained to use potentially deadly forced to disarm a suicidal suspect.
Crowe had claimed the shooting was justified under the circumstances and that the imposition of discipline was unlawful and unreasonable. He had sought the removal of the suspension from his record and to be reimbursed for lost pay.
The case is State of Missouri ex rel. Clay Crowe v. Missouri State Highway Patrol.