Officers Must Face Jury Over Death of Suspect During Arrest

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By Alisa Johnson

The fact that a man was in poor health before officers burst into a home and allegedly tased, choked, and kicked him in the face doesn’t mean their actions didn’t cause his fatal heart attack, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled Aug. 9 ( Darden v. City of Fort Worth , 2017 BL 278081, 5th Cir., No. 16-11244, 8/9/17 ).

The court reversed a district court’s conclusion that police in this civil rights action couldn’t be legally responsible for the death of Jermaine Darden, who was black.

The district court’s conclusion that the injury did not result directly and only from the use of force was essentially based on the fact that Darden had preexisting medical conditions that increased his risk of death during the incident, the appeals court said.

“The evidence suggests that Darden would not have suffered a heart attack and died if the officers had not tased him, forced him onto his stomach, and applied pressure to his back,” the appeals court said.

“Indeed, the medical expert ultimately concluded that ‘Darden’s manner of death should not have been ruled as natural.’ Accordingly, the plaintiff can show that the use of force was the direct and only cause of Darden’s death,” the court said.

The district court concluded that Darden’s heart attack didn’t result directly and only from the officers’ use of force when he had preexisting medical conditions that increased his risk of death during a struggle. However, both case law and departmental policy require officers to exercise greater care when arresting obese people. Darden weighed about 340 pounds.

According to witnesses, officers executing a search warrant for evidence of cocaine sales at a residence threw Darden to the ground, tased him twice, choked him, punched and kicked him in the face, pushed him into a face-down position, pressed his face into the ground, and pulled his hands behind his back to handcuff him, according to the court summary.

“There is a genuine factual dispute over whether Darden was resisting arrest and posed an immediate safety threat to the officers,” the court said.

It will be for a jury to decide whether Darden was resisting or merely struggling to get into a position where he could breathe. Darden’s estate brought the case alleging excessive force.

The Law Offices of Daryl K. Washington, P.C. represented Darden’s estate. The Fort Worth, Texas City Attorney’s Office, Foster & East, and the Law Office of D. Lee Thomas represented the defendants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Johnson in Washington at ajohnson@bna.com

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

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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