Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the deputy alleged use of force, in pointing his gun at arrestee and threatening to kill him if he did not surrender, was excessive, but arrestee’s right not to have a gun pointed at him under the circumstances was not clearly established.
Holding: The Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit Judge held that the police officer’s act of performing a “takedown” of arrestee was objectively unreasonable, and thus violated arrestee’s constitutional rights. However, the police officer was entitled to qualified immunity on arrestee’s excessive force claim.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held that summary judgment in favor of non-shooting officers on qualified immunity grounds was not warranted and that summary judgment in favor of shooting officer on qualified immunity grounds was not warranted.
Holding: Although Plaintiff adequately alleged claims under Fourth Amendment for unreasonable seizure and excessive force, detaining officer was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established that officer needed probable cause to detain plaintiff or that force used in plaintiff’s particular situation was clearly unreasonable.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the deputies’ SWAT-style raid constituted unlawful seizure and violated the Fourth Amendment but that the deputies did not violate clearly established law regarding excessive force to execute a search warrant and were, therefore, entitled to qualified immunity.
Holding: Police officer’s use of deadly force on fleeing suspect was objectively unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment, but case law was not clearly established, so police officer is entitled to qualified immunity.
In a speech about criminal gangs before police officers on Long Island, New York today, the President of the United States openly encouraged police officers to abuse people they arrest and take into custody. Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star tweeted that President Trump explained that didn’t want officers to protect suspects’ heads when putting them in police cars, saying “You can take the hand away,” which drew the officers’ loud approval. Concurrent reporting from Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast confirmed that the call for police brutality drew “wild applause.”
The president’s comments are disgraceful and anathema to responsible policing and the Rule of Law. Causing intentional injury to a handcuffed suspect is not only against police procedure, but is a federal crime for which police officers have been sent to prison. What’s worse, the reaction of the crowd of officers should strike fear into the heart of every parent on Long Island, particularly those of black and Hispanic young men who fit the stereotypical description of the gang members President Trump described.
In the name of law and order, the president made a mockery of the Rule of Law in his call for illegal violence against presumptively innocent suspects. It is a shameful day for the presidency and police agencies across the country should condemn the president’s irresponsible and indefensible comments in the strongest possible terms.
The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project keeps tabs on a wide range of misconduct. Whether the misbehavior is excessive force on duty or a DWI off duty, we catalog the event and track the officer’s case goes through the administrative, civil, or criminal justice systems. Part of the reason we do this is to show whether police departments and other responsible government agencies are holding their officers accountable.
Depending on local laws and union contracts, police leadership can be limited in how much punishment they can dole out for a given offense. However, when a crime appears to have been committed and the police simply administer minor officer discipline, it sends a message that officers can act above the law. This message is amplified when officers who exposed that potentially criminal behavior are punished more severely than the offending officer.
This seems to be the case in Fort Worth, Texas. Two senior officers, Assistant Chief Abdul Pridgen and Deputy Chief Vance Keyes, have been demoted for allegedly leaking camera footage of their fellow officer, William Martin, violently attacking a woman who had called police for help after her son was assaulted. The video went viral, and Martin was suspended for ten days.
The attorney for the woman who was attacked and arrested, Jacqueline Craig, had this to say:
“[Officer] Martin amassed a series of felonies on that day from assault, to aggravated assault, to perjury, official corruption, false arrest [and] to each of these he received no criminal investigation, no criminal prosecution. He received a 10-day vacation and he was returned to the force with a scheduled promotion,” [Lee] Merritt said. “It’s a sad day for the city of Fort Worth. The level of blatant racism and unapologetic hypocrisy should no longer be tolerated and so we take this stand together today.”
Such retribution against senior officers who appear to have acted as whistleblowers will almost certainly have a chilling effect on reporting misconduct within the department. Moreover, it tells the people of Fort Worth–especially those in minority communities–that police violence against them is a less serious offense than exposing misconduct by fellow officers.
At least one of the officers reported that he plans to sue over this discipline. We’ll keep an eye on this story as it continues.
You can read the full report of the incident here.
Today, the Supreme Court declined to review an appeal in the case of Salazar-Limon v. City of Houston (scroll down). Of course, the Court declines most appeals and can only review a small fraction of the cases brought to it. What is noteworthy about this case is the dissent filed by Justice Sotomayor. She wanted to explain why the Court’s denial was a mistake.
The case involved a police shooting in Houston. The man, Ricardo Salazar-Limon (SL), survived the shooting and later sued for excessive force. Unfortunately, his lawsuit was thrown out before there was even a trial. That was Sotomayor’s objection–the case was improperly decided by a judge before trial when a jury should have heard the controversy. Salazar-Limon was shot by the police and now the government has tossed away his legal claim of excessive force. By allowing the lower court ruling to stand uncorrected, the law is now tilting against the victims of police misconduct and puts dangerous power in the hands of police.
Here’s the background: SL was driving on a Houston freeway around midnight. He had been drinking. Officer Chris Thompson pulled him over, and asked for his license. Thompson checked for warrants, but there were none. SL was asked to exit his vehicle –probably for a sobriety test. It seems that when Thompson moved to put handcuffs on SL, things escalated fast and their stories diverge. SL says he started walking away, and that he was shot in the back just seconds after Thompson had called out to him to stop. Thompson claims that SL responded to his order by turning around and making a motion toward his waistband as if he were about to draw a gun, so Thompson, who had already drawn his weapon, shot SL. SL had no gun.
As noted, an excessive force claim was filed. The police officer asked the district judge to resolve the case in his favor prior to trial, arguing that he was immune under the doctrine of qualified immunity.
When the facts are disputed, cases typically go to the jury. When there is no real factual dispute, a judge might decide the case based on the law. That’s what happened here, but it remains controversial. Officer Thompson and the lower courts took the position that since SL did not deny reaching for his waistband, the court could decide the case without a jury. In that situation, the courts said Thompson would have been justified in using deadly force–even if no gun is found later. The perceived threat is sufficient.
Sotomayor said the courts were making an awful mistake. SL’s legal claim did dispute the facts–that he did not turn to Officer Thompson till he was shot in the back. SL is basically saying that he got shot for disobeying an order given just seconds earlier and that’s excessive force.
Sotomayor isn’t saying that Officers Thompson was wrong to shoot. She is making a more modest argument. The jury should have heard both sides and then decided the case after hearing all the evidence. She believes the courts are deciding too many of these kinds of cases prematurely and that the victims of police misconduct are having their claims improperly rejected. She’s right. Alas, only Justice Ginsburg joined Sotomayor’s dissent. Still, the dissent raised the profile of the problem and will help ignite a debate in this important corner of the law.
We should note that Sotomayor cites this article by Radley Balko that collects cases of persons shot by police where the justification was “reaching for the waistband” and it turned out there was no gun. That is just too thin a basis for the use of deadly force on people. To be clear, the officer could draw his weapon and he could take cover and issue more commands to a suspect to show his hands. But opening fire without seeing a gun in such circumstances seems wrong. At the least, the jury should have decided whether the shot was truly justified.
For December we’ve selected two former police officers from East Point, Georgia, who were found guilty of criminal charges last month in relation to the killing of Gregory Towns.
Here’s the background: Two police officers, Marcus Eberhart and Howard Weems, were responding to a domestic disturbance call. When they arrived on the scene, Gregory Towns tried to flee on foot. The police caught him and placed him in handcuffs. When the officers ordered Towns to stand up and walk to the police car, he said he was exhausted and too tired to walk. Frustrated, the police responded by tasing Towns so that he would comply with their commands. Towns was tased several times and he died.
At their criminal trial, the officers told the jury, via their legal counsel, that Towns died from an illness unrelated to the tasing, but if they did not believe that, the jury should understand that the tasing was the only way to get Towns to the police car.