Fourth Circuit: A Person has a Right to Come to the Door with a Firearm

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Fourth Circuit: A Person has a Right to Come to the Door with a Firearm

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- On March 30, 2022, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit published an opinion in the case of Knibbs v Momphard. The Court found for the Estate of Knibbs, which is suing Deputy Momphard of the Macon County Sheriff’s Department. It was a split opinion, for the Knibbs Estate.

Important precedents involving firearms and the Second Amendment are solidified by this opinion, which cites several previous cases.  The Constitutional Amendment primarily cited is the Fourth Amendment. However, the citation to the Fourth relies on the Second Amendment, which includes the possession of a firearm in the home for self-defense.

This author sees the important issues in this case, clarified by the March 30 opinion, as:

  1. The mere possession of a firearm by a homeowner is not sufficient to justify the use of deadly force by officers.
  2. There is a right to come to the door with a firearm.
  3. Officers must identify themselves as officers to gain qualified immunity.
  4. Mere verbal announcement, without visual confirmation, is not sufficient to gain qualified immunity.
  5. Sufficient precedent exists for officers to be aware of their duty in these situations.

A brief synopsis of the case and disputed events:

On April 29, 2018, there was a dispute between neighbors on Pheasant Drive, which was a private, one-lane dirt road without street lights. It was dark when Deputy Momphard answered the complaint. As part of the investigation, he attempted to contact the Knibbs family. He did not turn on his emergency lights or use his siren. There was a full moon.



As he knocked on the door and announced himself, he heard a shotgun being racked. He feared for his safety and moved onto an attached porch with windows. He shined his flashlight through one of the windows to see Knibbs, holding a shotgun. It is disputed whether the shotgun was pointed at Deputy Momphard or not. Momphard fired numerous shots, killing Knibbs.

The court cited the previous Cooper case, from the Fourth Circuit, decided in 2013. From the Opinion in Knibbs, p.25:

“Reacting to the sight of Cooper and his shotgun,” and without giving any warning or identifying themselves, the officers shot Cooper. Id.at 156. Accepting this evidence at the summary judgment stage, we held that the officers unreasonably feared for their safety because “the mere possession of a firearm by a suspect is not enough to permit the use of deadly force.”

They also cited the Hensley case, from the Fourth Circuit in 2017.   From the opinion, citing Hensley, p. 25:

Similarly, in Hensley, the plaintiff’s evidence at the summary judgment stage showed that Hensley held a handgun in his hand as he walked off his porch towards law enforcement officers. 876 F.3d at 578.The handgun was pointed down towards the ground during the entire incident, and Hensley “never raised the gun toward the Deputies or made any overt threats toward them.” Id.Nor did the deputies order him to stop, drop the gun, or “issue[] any type of warning” before shooting him.

Id.Under these facts as proffered by

26 Hensley––despite contrary factual assertions from the deputies––we reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the deputies on qualified immunity grounds because a jury could reasonably conclude that Hensley posed no reasonable danger to the deputies, and that they “shot Hensley simply because he had a possession of a firearm.” Id. at 583.5

The court cited The Betton case, from the Fourth Circuit in 2019. Officers have to give sufficient warning for suspects to reasonably believe they are officers.  As cited in the Knibbs case, p. 26:

Finally, in Betton, officers entered Betton’s home pursuant to a search warrant without announcing their presence. 942 F.3d at 188. Betton drew a handgun from his waistband and held it by his hip pointing down. Id. at 188–89. Once he entered the living room where the police officers were located––with his gun still pointing down––officers shot him without giving any instructions or warning. Id. at 189. We held that a reasonable juror could conclude that these actions constituted excessive force, noting that “Betton could not have known that members of law enforcement caused the noise that he heard on his property, because the officers had failed to announce their presence at any time before firing their weapons.”

In the Knibbs case opinion, published on March 30, 2022, the court found mere verbal announcement without visual confirmation, is not enough.  From p. 36 of the Knibbs opinion:

Utilizing these principles, the question is whether it was clearly established in April 2018 that an officer may not use deadly force against a homeowner who possesses a firearm inside his own home while investigating a nocturnal disturbance but does not aim the weapon at the officer or otherwise threaten him with imminent deadly harm. This is so even after the homeowner hears the officer announce himself––but cannot visually verify that to be true––and ignores commands to drop the weapon.

From the opinion, there is a right to come to the door with a firearm, p. 28:

Under the circumstances proffered by the Estate’s evidence, there was no lighting either inside or outside of Knibbs’ home. And it is undisputed that Deputy Momphard’s blue emergency lights were not operating. Against this backdrop, a reasonable officer would have recognized that it was unknown whether Knibbs could discern who was outside on his porch before answering the door.6 Such an officer would have also recognized that Knibbs, in turn, was within his lawful rights to arm himself to “investigat[e] a nocturnal disturbance on his own property.” Cooper, 735 F.3d at 160 (quoting Pena, 316 F. App’x at 312). That decision would have been, and in fact was, “perfectly reasonable,” and it “should have been apparent to [Deputy Momphard] at the time of the shooting” that Knibbs could do so. Id. (quoting Pena, 316 F. App’x at 312). After all, “the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute” in one’s home. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 628 (2008). Deputy Momphard readily acknowledged this premise at his deposition, admitting that Knibbs “ha[d] a right to come to the door with his firearm” and that “[i]t wouldn’t have been an issue” if Knibbs opened the door while holding his shotgun––“I would have had a casual conversation with him just as I had a million different times with a lot of other people.” J.A. 308–09.

On page 30 of the opinion, Sheriff Holland testified the mere racking of a shotgun is not a threat sufficient to justify deadly force.

SHERIFF HOLLAND: No…. It’s not illegal to rack a shotgun.”

According to the opinion, the primary material fact turns on whether Knibbs ever pointed his gun at Deputy Momphard. It is stated as the only thing in the case which could have caused a reasonable officer to fear for his life.

The court acknowledged shooting an individual for merely possessing a firearm in his own home, by a government agent,  violates the Fourth Amendment.

The law holds the court was compelled to view the case in the light most favorable to the appealing party, in a summary judgment case.  This means the court accepted the version of events put forward by the Knibbs estate. The Fourth Circuit ruled the case should be allowed to go to trial, and that Deputy Momphard did not have qualified immunity.

The court explored the concept that Deputy Momphard could have qualified immunity if he could show the constitutional right he violated was not “clearly established” at the time of the incident.

The Cooper, Hensley, and Betton cases supplied the precedent. Deputy Momphard should have been able to draw a logical conclusion. P. 42

.. the contours of Knibb’s constitutional right were “beyond debate” in April of 2018.

The opinion included this significant statement on page 45:

 We begin with the requirement that the officer not take an action that a reasonable man would know is contrary to his duty.

The primary dispute is whether a person, in his own home, merely holding a firearm, is a sufficient deadly threat to allow a police officer to shoot them, and be immune from lawsuit under qualified immunity.

An important part of this case is whether merely verbally announcing they are a law enforcement officer is sufficient to enable a homeowner to determine they are such. Anyone, including criminals, can easily announce themselves to be law enforcement officers.

This case only applies to the Fourth Circuit. Application can be made for an en banc panel, although such is less likely in the Fourth Circuit than in the Ninth Circuit. Absent a re-evaluation of the case en banc, the case can be appealed to the Supreme Court.


About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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Cruiser

Common sense prevails.

billybob

To often thugs have used the “We’re Police, open up” ruse in home invasions. We’re taught not to shoot through doors because you cannot verify your target, yet this cop did just that. He’s going Down!

incorrigible

As to verbal announcement of “Police”, where does that leave we deaf people? Are we then just “Fair Game”?

HLB

Local police should know you personally. What happened to that?

HLB

Pa John

Apparently the homeowner thought that loudly racking his pump shotgun was a great way to scare away the bad guys. Some unannounced cop shooting him through a window multiple times and with no warning, was obviously a completely unexpected result, or the homeowner wouldn’t be dead & buried now. Racking your shotgun “for effect” could absolutely get you killed if you are really just expecting the bad guys to be all intimidated when they hear that and simply run away. It may just allow them to identify exactly where you are and put you down in a hail of heavy… Read more »

Wild Bill

True, noise discipline is important, but I see it as equally a failure to take cover issue, as well.

PistolGrip44

Dirty Murdering PIGS!!! There are no good cops, only dead cops!!!

Wild Bill

You might be overstating the situation a little.

Tackleberry

The conversations have been rather amenable these past few days with the absence of the Wonder Twins. Then this guy appears. Has anyone handed his post over to the mods? Better yet, what is the moderator contact?

Last edited 1 month ago by Tackleberry
Wild Bill

I do not know. The past few days have been terrific, like the old Ammoland, except for this fellow. I am sure that the management is aware.

It is a beautiful day in Texas! Hope that it is a beautiful day in your neck of the woods, too!

Tackleberry

Been stationed in TX a few times and always enjoyed it, besides the heat. San Angelo/San Antonio, but TDY to all over down there too many times to count. I’m sitting at my desk at Wright-Patt having lunch right now and checking the pages. Hope you have a great day as well.

Oldvet

Tackleberry…Cold too! Stationed at Shepard in 66 going to tech school . It snowed so much it closed the base down twice that winter . Always told people I spent two winters there one year , never so cold in my life .

Tackleberry

I was at a TDY to Lackland AFB for a course around 95-96, and witnessed snowfall sufficient that it hung around on the ground for a few hours, it was one of those oddities that my memories have I’ve always cherished. I have a lot of Scandinavian DNA in my veins so I’ve always chalked that up to my love of the cold. My time at Eielson AFB just outside Fairbanks saw -40°F before the howling wind factored into the windchill. It was a pain in the butt to operate but that was bliss for me.

Wild Bill

Hey, I was up to Ft. Richardson (before it was merged with Elmondorf), once. As a young captain, I was aide-de-camp to a GO. We went up there for a series of meetings. What a good gig! All I had to do was call the Ft. Richardson Protocol Office and they did everything. Great people! They provided vehicles, scheduling, liaison, quarters, and a protocol escort to make sure that nothing went wrong. I saw my first live moose and calf on the street between the Bachelor Officer Quarters and the Post Exchange. Good thing that she was in a good… Read more »

Oldman

She, (the moose) was just used to people and apparently didn’t think you were a threat. I learned the hard way in 1969 when I tried to get too close to get a picture in Idaho at about 10,000 ft. elevation. I had the wife, at that time, start up the car, normally aspirated Fiat 850 Spyder, and get moving while I chased it trying to get aboard the rear engine cover. just barely staying ahead of her. I finally got on and the car which was jetted for sea level, and we were chased for about another mile, before… Read more »

Wild Bill

My wise old momma moose that she was probably recognized a hapless dope when she saw one.

Your old momma moose is probably still … using your camera!!

Tackleberry

We built our retirement home on some acreage outside of North Pole, AK, Wasnt long after the home was completed when my wife went to leave for work in the early morning. When she remote unlocked and started her Suburban, it spooked a bull moose that had between our two vehicles. It totaled hers and did another $10k of damage ge to my truck.

I hold a lot of respect for wildlife and the amount of power they can wield.

Last edited 1 month ago by Tackleberry
Wild Bill

Yep, they are surprisingly big and capable beyond belief.

Oldvet

Tackleberry…When I was younger , hell yes , I’ve worked outside all my life now at my age I’m enjoying being able to watch it from inside . .

HLB

Did a civilian re-deployment at Fort Bliss in 2004. I would like to go back for a visit.

HLB

Wild Bill

Come on down, but hurry because Summer is supposed to hit this Tuesday!

Wild Bill

Yes, but we are prepared. Someday when I have time, I’ll have to tell you about the time that the wind gusted up some of my shingles and I had to go up and sit on them while the glue dried !!!

Tackleberry

@Reb Here I am thinking the site has become rather amenable to civil discourse with the absence of the Wonder Twins, then you see this guy popping in spamming this garbage. Has anyone kicked his post up to the mods?

Wild Bill

That is a good thought!

ashort

this is a good topic, but it also brings to mind weapons mounted lights. in other words do you still have the same rights, if your weapon has a mounted light, and the only way to identify your assailant police or whomever, being good or bad, is to point you weapon and it mounted light in the direction of the apposing person, but not directly at the person. even though it make look that way. Personally my weapons light has an adjustable beam for such as a flood light or spotlight, but either way you have to present your firearm… Read more »

Orion

reason number two why i dont use white lights on ours. green lasers show POI but only when target is identified…. and the target never knows he’s dotted.

Roland T. Gunner

Times be a’changing, and this change is a good one. Along with handgun carry licensing, and even moreso constitutional carry, this will help to change the negative, unequally weighted dynamic between police and the public. I was taugtt in the Houston Police Academy, 30 years ago, that a person with a weapon was a threat to be countered, making the decision of whether or not to use force largely formulaic; in an attempt to relieve us, the officers, of the duty and responsibility for making that most critical judgement call the State and the public entrusted to us. As I… Read more »

Ken

Unfortunately, situations like this compel me to regard a police officer as a “stranger with a gun” until I find out differently. Sad but true. Many police have become far too militant.

swmft

that is the sad reality of the times we live in, there has been actual home invasions that turned out to be off duty police, rapes by on duty police ,thefts of all kinds dea and fbi are not exempt from the bad characters and most police bury there heads in the sand, many of the exleos here dont like me because I push them to look at the criminal things they over looked blue blinders. I quit dea when they started helping police forces create civil asset forfeiture squads, a layer of defense for agency to say they did… Read more »

ROCK6

To a degree, but it’s a good reminder police need to be “peacekeepers” and not just enforcers of law. My son did his police academy last year and there was little to no training or mentioning how to deal with legally armed citizens. His police department is much better prepared, but it’s a systemic issue that isn’t really addressed in police training. These are all sad cases of legal gun-owning homeowners getting gunned down by Law Enforcement who want the qualified immunity protections for their lack of situational assessments and judgements. Case in point. My son had a situation just… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by ROCK6
TStheDeplorable

I’m a retired cop. It’s a hard and confusing job at times. But, if the circumstances articulated by the court are accurate, I can’t imagine not backing off immediately to a defensive position, calling for help, and getting dispatch working on finding a phone number into the house so we could sort the mess out. By the way, the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” is horribly misunderstood. All it means, as demonstrated in this case where it was denied as a defense, is that where the law is silent or very murky and an officer acts reasonably in a situation… Read more »

swmft

I do not know when you were working or where, but most of the police I met in the 80s early 90s were not professionals, and yes it tainted my view you be involved in a shootout where local police are protecting grow houses, or a dealer that runs out of a strip club cant even count the things I saw ,the one thing I do remember is two different officers from two different departments that warned me about groups within their departments , one of them went on to work with fbi taskforce to clean up department the other… Read more »

3l120

Pray tell, where was that?

HLB

Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine created by the Supreme Court…”

This is one partial definition that I found on-line.

This is Case Law, not Legislative Law. It was decreed by State Actors (Judges).

I have a Natural Law. It was decreed by Me (acting on behalf of all humans). It says that if the Law is not Constitutional, or Clear, or Followed correctly by the LEO’s, then I am not liable for my conduct which may include killing other people.

The one-sided use of such a doctrine is always wrong. LEO’s are not special any more than any one else.

HLB

Roland T. Gunner

You probably remember, the nationwide scramble to roll that whole back that “take cover and call for backup” tactical doctrine after the first couple of mass school shootings…

Orion

much different situation when active shooters are raining havoc on innocents. not even close.

Sisu

I appreciate your comment: “I can’t imagine not backing off immediately …”. But, “… calling for help, …” ? Why agitate and aggravate the situation and individual (you already shined an unexpected and unwarranted light into a private residence) ? Protect yourself by retreating – because there is a high likelihood that your approach has been / was going to be misunderstood. Shout out “Police, checking to ensure you are ‘Okay’. I am returning to my car.” or something similar.  Notify “command”. But, why assume the individual in the home is “violent” and “you need ‘help’” ? “help” to do… Read more »

Wild Bill

Domestic “disturbances” are the most emotional and therefore most dangerous. Calling for backup get the personnel and assets needed to conclude the contact peacefully. If there is a non-native English speaker involved, maybe there is someone that speaks his language available. If a woman is involved, maybe a female cop is available. If there is a white hating person involved in the domestic call, maybe someone of “the correct race” is available. Just like a pull down menu of assets.

3l120

You are right. Just go back to your car and leave, right? You don’t need backup, just write homeowner was uncooperative in your log. On to the next call.

Sisu

There is ambiguity in your comment. Please clarify. “Agree” or “Disagree”; just be clear. … Be courageous: clearly state your position. I have come to hate TV series from the past and present; but there are situational decisions which can be learned from many. … In one MASH episode the “buffoon dr.” is responsible for triage. In the operating room one of the primary surgeons is presented with a warrior with massive wounds, which are discussed as a situation wherein scarce supplies will be consumed and chances of survival are nil. The “all-knowing, alda character” states: “He should never have… Read more »

ROCK6

Was the call for a felony or just require a citation? My son’s PD dispatch launched their small SWAT team to deal with “an active shooter” barricaded in his apartment. The conclusion was it was just a negligent discharge and the SWAT team leader told dispatch to mail the guy a citation for the discharge, packed up and they went home. Did they need to breach a barricaded door of an armed homeowner who just did an ND that harmed nobody? Again, do we want militant enforces of law only or peacekeepers?

Stag

Nailed it!

PistolGrip44

So, you are a PIG!!!

3l120

And you are an AH. That does not mean American Hero, just that you are an ass…e. What is the matter, wash out of training, because you were a wimp?

Orion

apparently, PistolGrip’s momma doesnt swallow and this is the result.

gregs

most leo’s and other government agents know if what they are doing is lawful or not when they act, therefore they should be held responsible for violating another’s civil rights. if they don’t know then they should find out before acting, that would be the prudent thing to do. many times their ego gets in the way and they use the force of law to violate someone’s rights, not good. qualified immunity should be removes as a judicial tool to let government agents act outside the bounds of the law. government agents should have to purchase their own individual professional… Read more »

Stag

Absolutely!

ROCK6

Qualified immunity should only be for citizens who defend themselves against the government; and the government has to prove the citizen was violating the law. Period. I fully agree that instead of collective bargaining police unions, they should be doing a police defense fund to help them with civil suits. That said, I don’t think LEOs should be targeted for situations like the killing of Breonna Taylor; that was a department failure and put the police in a situation that forced a gunfight. I hate tax-payers funding lawsuits to protect incompetent, inept, or even corrupt government departments, but that’s likely… Read more »

JR

Thank you for your article, Mr. Weingarten.

Hazcat

Yes, Dean is ‘old school’ and lays the facts out in a clear and concise manner .

Darkman

It continues to get scary out there. Courts making Rights affirming decisions based of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

swmft

right to defend ones own life say its not true ..

Jonesy

F..ing Joe Biden’s nominee is very unsure about natural rights
and also how to define a woman.

J Gibbons

Both issues require an admission that there is a higher level, or even an ultimate, source of authority on morality. Marxist progressives don’t believe in any level of authority other than their own. Hard to have a “polite society” when everyone plays by their own rules of relative and shifting morality. The really sad part is that they will claim moral authority over “a woman’s body” or their own property (BLM founders with fences around their mansions bought with embezzled funds). They do this while denying that they can define what a “woman” is and claiming no one should own… Read more »

Roland T. Gunner

Yes, her upcoming confirmation truly pisses me off.

Wild Bill

S. Ct. justices are appointed “for a term of good behavior.” If the repubs take the House and Senate, then they could impeach and convict Biden, Harris, Roberts, Katanga, Kagan, and Sotomeyer.

Russn8r

Not really. 67 votes required to impeach.