In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case, Plaintiff Ralph Dwayne Miller appeals a jury verdict in favor of Defendants Officer Taylor of the Knoxville Police Department, and the City of Knoxville, Tennessee. Plaintiff contends that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the burden of proving self-defense, and on the standard of reasonableness against which to measure Officer Taylor's use of deadly force. We find no error in the trial court's charge to the jury.
On the evening of July 30, 1986, Officer Taylor observed Plaintiff driving a motorcycle carrying a female passenger without a helmet in violation of Tennessee law. Taylor pulled Plaintiff over and requested that the female passenger get off the motorcycle. After she dismounted, Officer Taylor allegedly ordered Plaintiff to pull his motorcycle over to the side of the road. Plaintiff contends that he never heard Officer Taylor's instruction, and that he instead pulled into a parking lot around the block. Officer Taylor believed, however, that Plaintiff had left the scene and ignored his instruction to pull over and park. After a futile search for the Plaintiff, Taylor temporarily abandoned his pursuit. Later that evening, while patrolling near the female passenger's apartment, Taylor discovered Plaintiff's motorcycle in a parking lot. While investigating the motorcycle, Plaintiff appeared in the parking lot and was confronted by Officer Taylor who requested to see some identification.
The subsequent events were hotly disputed by the parties at trial. Plaintiff alleged that he complied with Officer Taylor's order to approach the police cruiser, but without provocation, Taylor struck him with his night stick. Plaintiff maintained that while trying to defend himself he exchanged several blows with Taylor. Conversely, Officer Taylor contended that Plaintiff did not comply with his request to enter the police cruiser, and that Plaintiff attacked him and hit him with his fists. Taylor alleged that Plaintiff grabbed for Taylor's holster to which he responded by hitting Plaintiff with his night stick. Taylor claimed that he lost control of the night stick and subsequently received "stunning blows to his head with a blunt instrument." Allegedly fearing for his life, Taylor drew his weapon and fired one shot, but he continued to receive blows to the head. Taylor then fired a second shot that hit Plaintiff. As a result, Plaintiff was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
On appeal, Plaintiff's claims of error focus narrowly on the following jury instruction:
Plaintiff submits that in this instruction, the trial court erroneously charged the jury with a subjective rather than an objective standard of reasonableness for measuring Taylor's use of deadly force. Furthermore, Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that Officer Taylor's reliance on "self-defense" was an affirmative defense on which he bore the burden of proof.
"A reviewing court, when considering a claimed error or omission in jury instructions must consider the charge as a whole to see if it `fairly and adequately' submits the issues and applicable law to the jury." Donald v. Wilson, 847 F.2d 1191, 1199 (6th Cir.1988) (quoting United States v. Martin, 740 F.2d 1352, 1361 (6th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 472 U.S. 1029, 105 S.Ct. 3506, 87 L.Ed.2d 636(1985)); see Blackwell v. Sun Electric Corp., 696 F.2d 1176, 1181 (6th Cir.1983). Upon reviewing the jury instructions as a whole, we find no error in the district court's charge to the jury.
Initially we find no merit in Plaintiff's contention that the trial court erred in its instruction to the jury on the standard of reasonableness against which to measure Officer Taylor's use of deadly force. Placing the single challenged sentence in the context of its paragraph, the true objective nature of the jury charge on reasonableness predominates:
When read in the context of the entire paragraph, the references to "him" and "he" in the disputed sentence clearly allude to "an officer," not to Officer Taylor in particular. Furthermore, any inference of subjective reasonableness which could be drawn from the sentence is quickly dispelled by the accompanying language which includes the following charge to the jury: "as you can see the test is simply one of reasonableness. You must determine whether or not Officer Taylor used more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances." The objective test of acting "reasonably under the circumstances" was repeated throughout the jury instructions.
Likewise, we are unimpressed by Plaintiff's further contention that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury
Since the use of deadly force by a police officer is constitutionally permissible under some circumstances,
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the trial court's jury instructions provide no reversible error and, accordingly, we affirm.