• December 21, 2014

Court ruling sheds light on law giving police officers qualified immunity

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Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 5:26 pm, Sun Aug 25, 2013.

A federal court ruling earlier this month found that a Killeen police officer used excessive force when he pulled a man out of his patrol car and dragged him to the city jail. Even though the man was injured, a law giving officers qualified immunity meant the plaintiff wasn’t awarded damages.

Brian Tobias Stanley, 34, recently released a video recorded March 24, 2011, in the Killeen Police Department garage bay, in which Officer Givonchie Emeana appears to grab Stanley’s outstretched left ankle before yanking him out of the cruiser.

Jurors in a Waco district court ruled Aug. 6 that Emeana used excessive force, but Judge Walter S. Smith did not award Stanley the $75,000 he sought in the lawsuit because the jury found that Emeana was not trying to violate Stanley’s constitutional rights.

Stanley’s attorney, Jason J. Bach, said his client’s right foot was lodged under a board beneath the front seat. Bach said two of Stanley’s ligaments were damaged in the incident. His right MCL was torn and his right ACL was sprained.

Attorneys for the officer, however, tell a different story.

Stanley slouched against the passenger-side door, which necessitated removal from the other side, said Stuart Smith, who represented Emeana. To resist arrest, Smith argued, Stanley pegged his right foot and kicked at Emeana with his left. Stanley denies that claim.

The video Stanley provided to the Herald this month doesn’t show a clear picture of whether Stanley kicked the officer.

“The video provided by Mr. Stanley shows only a portion of his interaction with Officer Emeana,” Killeen spokeswoman Hilary Shine said in an emailed response. “This case was tried in a federal court and the jury ... found that Mr. Stanley was ultimately responsible for any injuries he may have incurred, not Officer Emeana.”

Emeana joined the force in May 2009. In his April 1 deposition, he said he got a written reprimand for “discourteous” language he used during the arrest, but supervisors never suggested that he breached Killeen Police Department protocol.

Legal Explanation

Given the circumstances, Emeana’s legal obligation was not clearly established in his mind, said University of Texas associate law professor Jennifer Laurin. He acted within reason because he did not have clear legal guidance that he was violating the Constitution, and that’s likely why the jury ruled in the officer’s favor.

Established by the Supreme Court, this example of qualified immunity is reserved for state and federal officials, and allowed the split ruling.

“Because this second question of qualified immunity was sent to (the jury), they had the opportunity to compromise in a sense, and said no damages should be awarded because this individual is immune from liability,” Laurin said. “The law permits that sort of result.”

Public Intoxication

The incident began at 5:30 a.m. March 24, 2011, in the 5200 block of Causeway Court after residents reported a suspicious vehicle in their driveway, the arrest report stated. Emeana and another officer found Stanley asleep in the back seat of his GMC pickup. Stanley slurred his speech, had red, watery eyes, and displayed poor coordination and disorientation.

Audio from Emeana’s cruiser indicated that Stanley thought he parked in a friend’s driveway.

“When you parked this truck here, you did so without normal faculties, meaning you were intoxicated, you showed signs of intoxication even now as we speak,” Emeana said while driving Stanley to jail, according to audio transcripts.

“Yes sir, I’m not going to deny that,” Stanley said.

“That is the prime ground for public intoxication,” Emeana said.

“OK, I agree,” Stanley said. “I violated that.”

Stanley said Thursday that he used those words only to progress the conversation and plead his case.

After realizing his impending detention, Stanley’s initial arrest-related questions escalated into eight minutes of loud profanities and racial slurs directed at Emeana that continued until he parked at the jail. Emeana removed Stanley from the car about a minute later.

Policy

Killeen Police Department policy states that lightly applied pain compliance holds, use of physical strength and skill and forcing subjects to the ground are acceptable control methods.

Stanley’s kick presented a threat, Emeana said. If Emeana released his ankle hold, he would’ve put himself in danger.

He said he was not aware of any policy requiring officers to ask for assistance in arrests, and has not been told he acted improperly.

As for Stanley’s alleged knee injury, KPD policy requires documentation of treatment refusals, and sends rejecting prisoners to jail. Stanley denied medical treatment twice that morning, but did not sign the paperwork, court documents indicated. Medical personnel treated him about six hours after the arrest, and noted knee pain but no swelling.

Bach said he wants to appeal the court’s Aug. 6 decision, but Stanley said he can’t afford anything more than the $52,000 he already owes his attorney.

“There’s no justice in America if you can’t pay for it,” he said.

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