Jones v. Garcia and Miller, No. 08-1969, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21801
(6th Cir. Unpub Decided September 29, 2009)
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case that illustrates that Officers need to be mindful of pre-existing injuries on suspects once the suspect is under control of the officers.i The incident at issue took place on April 14, 2004, at approximately 0200 hours, when police officers observed Jones breaking into and stealing from parked cars. When Jones saw the police, he fled on foot. He eventually stopped and obeyed the officer’s commands to lay face down on the ground. The officers handcuffed Jones. At this point, Jones told Officer Miller that his right shoulder was previously injured and he asked to be picked up by his left arm.
While the above facts are undisputed, there are now differing versions of what happened next. Jones claims that Officer Miller then “snatched” him up by his right arm and he heard a “pop” and yelled “ow.” On the other hand, Officer Miller claims that he “rolled Jones to the side and helped him to get to one knee.” Then he helped Jones stand up.
After the arrest, Jones spent the night in a cell at the police department. In the morning, Jones complained of shoulder pain to an officer. Jones was taken to a hospital and treated for a dislocated shoulder, which later required surgery. Jones plead guilty to larceny from a motor vehicle, breaking and entering a motor vehicle and causing damage to the vehicle.
Jones sued Officers Miller and Garcia for violating his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive, unreasonable force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Jones later dropped his claim against Officer Garcia, and the district court granted Officer Miller’s motion for summary judgment.
As a preliminary matter, it is important to note that, at a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party (the plaintiff, Jones), unless Jones version of events is clearly contradicted by the evidence.
Thus, the issue before the court was whether the officer was properly entitled to summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate if there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact”–which is another way of saying that no reasonable jury could rule for Jones.”ii However, if the evidence supports a plausible theory of excessive force, the Court of Appeals should reverse the districts court’s decision to grant the officer summary judgment.
In this case, the court first noted that, the need for force is “nonexistent” when a suspect is handcuffed and not resisting officers.iii The court then stated:
If Jones is right that Officer Miller “snatched” him from prone to standing using solely the arm connected to his bad shoulder, after he had warned Miller and Garcia of the pre-existing injury, a reasonable jury could conclude that Miller used “objectively unreasonable” force in making the arrest. That is enough to deny Miller’s motion for summary judgment.iv [internal citations omitted]
Thus, the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Officer Miller so the case goes to a jury to decide which version of events is most credible. The court noted that just because Jones may have a difficult timing winning, he should not be disabled from trying.
Points to Ponder
Handcuffing is considered a “use of force.” [See “Handcuffing as Excessive Force” – Jack Ryan]
Uses of force are analyzed the three factor test from the United States Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor.v The three factors to consider in deciding whether a use of force was objectively reasonable are
The severity of the crime at issue;
Whether the suspect poses a threat to the officer or others; and
Whether the suspect was actively resisting or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
If a suspect notifies an officer about a pre-existing injury that affects the manner of handcuffing, and the suspect is non-violent (does not poses a threat), the officer should take reasonable measures to avoid further injury. As a policy note, policy makers should provide discretion for officers in these situations., and [See Related Article: “Persons with Disabilities – Jack Ryan]
i Jones v. Garcia and Miller, No. 08-1969, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 21801(6th Cir. Unpub Decided September 29, 2009)
ii Jones at 3(citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c))
iii Id. at 4 (citing McDowell v. Rogers, 863 F.2d 1302, 1307 (6th Cir. 1988))
iv Id. at 9
v 490 U.S. 386 (1989)