Ferguson Protester Can Pursue Excessive Force Claim

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By Jordan S. Rubin

A man who protested the death of Michael Brown Jr. can pursue some civil claims against the cops he says beat him, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held Aug. 1 ( White v. Jackson , 2017 BL 266487, 8th Cir., No. 16-3897, 8/1/17 ).

The ruling addressed police misconduct allegations from six sets of plaintiffs in the wake of Brown’s August 9, 2014 shooting death at the hands of law enforcement, which sparked violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.

The district court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims. Senior Judge Diana E. Murphy’s opinion for the unanimous Eighth Circuit panel affirmed most, but not all, of the lower court’s rulings.

The district court shouldn’t have granted qualified immunity to officers who DeWayne Matthews says held his head underwater, pepper sprayed, punched, and kicked him, the circuit court said. It was “clearly established” that this behavior violates the Fourth Amendment, it said, reversing the district court’s rejection of Matthews’s excessive force and failure to train, supervise, and discipline claims.

The Eighth Circuit rejected the remaining claims brought by Matthews and the other plaintiffs, including their false arrest claims. There was “arguable probable cause” to arrest them, the court said.

And Damon Coleman’s excessive force claim, for example, was contradicted by his own video and audio recording, the court said. He can be heard joking with an officer just before his camera shuts off, the court said.

Judge James B. Loken and Senior Judge Michael J. Melloy joined Murphy’s opinion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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