Excessive Force During a Traffic Stop Inspected in Louisiana and Qualified Immunity

After a traffic stop in Shreveport, Louisiana, a man was arrested by two officers. The man had thrown liquid at the car behind him before he was pulled over. During the arrest, the two officers repeatedly grabbed and tasered the man. Eventually, they realized that the man’s elbow had been dislocated and called for medical assistance. Because of the injury, the man had to undergo multiple surgeries and was ultimately left with permanent disabilities in his left arm and hand. In light of this, the man claimed that the officers used excessive force during the arrest.

The injured man brought suit against the police officers as well as other defendants, and ultimately the trial court granted the motion of summary judgment filed by the defendants, ruling against the injured man. When appealing this decision, the injured man brought two main claims: 1) that the district court erred by granting the two police officers qualified immunity with regard to the excessive force claim; and 2) that the district court erred by dismissing the constitutional claim he brought against the head of the police department and the city for not implementing a proper policy for off-duty cops (one of the cops involved in the arrest was off-duty at the time).

With regard to the first claim, public officials (e.g. police officers) are allowed qualified immunity on summary judgment unless two requirements are met: 1) the plaintiff produces sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the conduct actually violated a constitutional right; and 2) the actions of the officers were objectively unreasonably in light of the relevant law at the time. In this case the Fourth Amendment provides that excessive force during an arrest is impermissible. However, according to the Supreme Court, every arrest requires the right to use some force, especially if the suspect is a threat to the officers or is resisting arrest. So, did the police officers use force that was clearly excessive and clearly unreasonable?

In this case, the injured man had been driving recklessly, had been drinking, raised his arms at the police officers, and threw liquid at another vehicle while driving. In addition to arguing these facts, the defendants were lucky to have caught the whole encounter on the officers’ videocamera. Ultimately, in reaction to these facts and the videotape, the appellate court agrees with the defendants that the officers did not use clearly excessive or clearly unreasonable force. Because the injured man was unable to prove that the officers’ actions met this threshold of being clearly excessive or clearly unreasonable, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity in this case.

With regard to the man’s second claim, a claim for failure to establish a policy only exists if the policy is the actual moving force behind the constitutional violation. Such a failure has to involve deliberate indifference, which is a standard much greater than negligence or gross negligence. In this case, the injured man is unable to prove that the city or the head of the police department acted with deliberate indifference with regard to citizens’ rights. To reach this conclusion, the court looked for any patterns of violence by off-duty police officers. The court also looked to see if the Shreveport Police Department had policies in place that were at least equal to the minimum standard required in Louisiana and similar to those required nationally. In this case, the policies in place were above the minimum standard required, and there was no pattern of off-duty police officer violence. For this reason, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

As you can see from the above analysis, personal injury cases can be incredibly complex. When choosing an attorney, you want to make sure that you select an attorney who is aware of the complex ins and outs of the legal system.

If you have been involved in a personal injury case, contact Berniard Law Firm at (504) 527-6225, where an experienced attorney will gladly help you with your claim.