Two recent federal court rulings supporting officers’ decision-making in force encounters are reported in the latest “Case Notes and Publications” email from Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, the nonprofit organization that monitors and assists with litigation of interest to LEOs and their agencies.
1. In Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach, et al., 5 Florida officers and their employer were sued over the streetside death of an incoherent, unruly suspect that occurred after he was hogtied to immobilize him and prevent him from running into traffic.
The county medical examiner listed the cause of death as “sudden respiratory arrest following physical struggling…due to cocaine-induced excited delirium.” A plaintiff’s expert, however, asserted that the cause was “asphyxia [from] neck compression,” induced by officers struggling to restrain him. The plaintiff, the suspect’s mother, alleged that the officers used excessive force and that the city failed to train them properly.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld a district court, which had exonerated the city and the officers of any liability. “Even though most of the officers in this case testified that [the subject] was not a danger to them and was merely resisting arrest, he was…‘an agitated and uncooperative man with only a tenuous grasp on reality.’ Because of his…inability to remain calm, [he] remained a safety risk to himself and to others….
“This was precisely the type of situation where the decisions of the officers confronted with “circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving” should not be second-guessed.”
The decision may be accessed in full by clicking here.
2. In the second case, Swann v. City of Richmond, et al., the plaintiff, a drug suspect, also alleged excessive use of force, this time by 3 detectives who shot and wounded him 5 times while firing at the car he was riding in. The plaintiff was in the backseat of the vehicle and had exhorted the driver to run down the detectives who wanted to question him.
The driver accelerated toward 2 of the officers, knocking 1 to the ground. That officer and his partners cut loose with 9 rounds into the car, striking the driver and the plaintiff nonfatally. One detective, who was positioned near the rear of the vehicle, said he thought the other officers’ shots had actually come from inside the car, although no gun was found there later.
Besides claiming that the force used violated his constitutional rights, the plaintiff alleged assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence.
A district court had granted summary judgment in the matter and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed. All officers, the appellate court ruled, had acted in “an objectively reasonable manner and in their own self-defense.”
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