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Excessive Force & Deliberate Indifference

January 9, 2019

On behalf of an Alabama city, Terry Sides obtained summary judgment in a federal court lawsuit which claimed the city has a policy, custom and practice of permitting and encouraging the unconstitutional use of force by its police officers, which is reinforced by alleged failures by the city to (a) discipline its officers or prosecute known incidents of improper use of excessive force by them, (b) adequately investigate claims of excessive force, (c) supervise problem officers, and (d) provide training to problem officers.  

The case arose out of an incident in 2014 when the plaintiff was arrested by three of the city’s police officers for, among other things, the criminal offense of his refusal/failure to comply with the lawful orders of the officers.  During the arrest, a physical altercation took place between plaintiff and the officers, which resulted in plaintiff sustaining a broken jaw and injuries to his back and legs.

Under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and Alabama law, plaintiff sued the three police officers for, among other things, excessive force, assault and battery, and wantonness, and he sued the city for being deliberately indifferent to police officer misconduct.  In support of his claim against the city, plaintiff pointed to a couple of previous lawsuits against one of the involved police officers for excessive force, and some citizen complaints which had been filed with the city about alleged misconduct by other of the city’s police officers.

The court rejected plaintiff’s claims and granted summary judgment for the city and the police officers.  The court concluded that, even when the evidence was viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the officers did not use excessive force in arresting him, but even if they did, reasonable officers faced with the same circumstances as these officers would not have known that their challenged conduct was unconstitutional.  Regarding the city, the court concluded that the previous lawsuits and citizen complaints relied on by plaintiff were of no benefit to him since none of the lawsuits or complaints had been shown to be meritorious, and moreover, given that plaintiff had failed to prove that the subject officers violated his constitutional rights, the city was entitled to a judgment in its favor on plaintiff’s claim that its alleged policies also violated his rights.

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