David Kedra was a 26 year-old Pennsylvania State Trooper with an unblemished record and a promising future when, in 2014, he attended a mandatory firearm safety training under the supervision of a veteran trooper who was a certified firearms instructor. David’s life ended tragically that day when the instructor shot and killed him while demonstrating the firing mechanism of a pistol. The instructor allegedly aimed the gun at David and pulled the trigger without making any effort to check for what turned out to be a round in the chamber. In doing so, he violated numerous safety protocols he had previously acknowledged in writing. After David’s death, the instructor pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of “reckless endangerment,” retired from the Pennsylvania State Police, and served a short prison sentence.
In a complaint filed by Williams Cedar partner Jerry Williams, David’s parents brought a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983, asserting that the instructor’s conduct had violated David’s constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The federal court dismissed the action, holding that the instructor was entitled to “qualified immunity,” a legal defense commonly asserted in civil rights cases.
In a well reasoned opinion issued on November 28, 2017, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that David possessed a clearly established “right not to be subjected, defenseless, to a police officer’s demonstration of the use of deadly force in a manner contrary to all applicable safety protocols.” The majority opinion was authored by the Honorable Cheryl Krause of the Third Circuit, and joined by the Honorable Michael J. Melloy of the Eighth Circuit, who heard the case “sitting by designation.” The third member of the panel, the Honorable Michael Fisher issued a concurring opinion, agreeing with the outcome, but suggesting a different basis for it.
The reversal and remand to the trial court is not the final step in the Kedras’ long journey to justice. It does, however, go a long way toward vindicating their position and granting them a day in court. Williams Cedar is proud to represent them.