Monday, April 07, 2014

Officers Who Brutally Subdued Detainee Who Died Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity in Civil Rights Suit

Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 2014 WL 929157 (3/11/14) (Col.) (Published) - Officers were not entitled to qualified immunity in the following circumstances: to place Mr. Booker in an intake/isolation cell after arresting him, an officer grabbed him from behind. Mr. Booker swung his elbow nearly striking the officer's head; a number of officers took him to the ground where he laid on his stomach; one officer used a "carotid restraint," which diminishes the supply of oxygenated blood to the brain and which training materials warned could cause brain damage if used for more than a minute [it was used for 2 1/2 minutes]; meanwhile another officer used a "gooseneck hold," a pain compliance technique, bringing Mr. Booker's hand behind his back; that officer handcuffed Mr. Booker and put a knee on his back applying 75 % of the officer's body weight of 190 pounds; another officer used nunchakus, a pain compliance device, securing it to Mr. Booker's ankle; then yet another officer tasered Mr. Booker's leg in "drive stun mode" for 8 seconds, 3 seconds longer than is standard; It was only after all that, 2 minutes, 55 seconds after the initial officer grab, that the carotid restraint and the nunchakus were released; Mr. Booker didn't resist. A video showed he was motionless while the officers subdued him. Officers carried Mr. Booker to a cell; they did not check to see if he needed medical attention; a minute and a half later an officer asked a nurse to examine Mr. Booker; almost 5 minutes elapsed from carrying Mr. Booker to his cell until a nurse arrived; needless to say Mr. Booker had died by then; he died from "cardiorespiratory arrest during physical restraint." The medical examiner determined that all the various methods used on Mr. Booker contributed to his death.

The 14th Amendment, not the 4th, applied. The 4th governs unreasonable seizures, the 14th, treatment of a detainee after a lawful seizure pursuant to probable cause. It was okay for the d. ct. to analyze the officers' actions in the aggregate,rather than individually since it was a group effort and the officers not only had a duty not to use excessive force, but also to intervene when they witnessed other officers using excessive force. Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the officers used excessive force. The plaintiff didn't have to show a motive amounting to excessive zeal amounting to official abuse of power since disproportional force and serious injury were present. And there was deliberate indifference with respect to getting Mr. Booker medical attention. There was sufficient evidence the delay in getting medical help contributed to Mr. Booker's death. The officers [or at least their lawyers] had the gall to suggest they couldn't be liable on that theory because they didn't check Mr. Booker's vital signs. The 10th says the officers were in a position to know of Mr. Booker's physical deterioration, since they caused it and because of his "limp" appearance.

And of some interest for our cases, the 10th refuses to seal documents even though they were filed under seal in district court. The defendants had the burden to show some significant interest outweighed the presumption in favor of records being open to the public. The defendants proffered no reason other than the sealing in district court.