An Ohio police officer may be held liable for injuries suffered by a gay man he left handcuffed in the road after questioning, an appeals court ruled.
The 6th District Court of Appeals ruled last week that Jeffrey Kamerer, a Wells Township police officer, did not have reasonable suspicion to search two men he spotted on a guardrail on Christmas 2011, reported Courthouse News.
Jimmy Coil and his boyfriend, Barry Starcher, were on their way home when the officer approached and asked their names, and the officer became enraged when they refused and turned to walk away.
"You better do what the f*ck I tell you when I tell you!” the officer yelled, according to Starcher’s testimony. “You're going to give me your f*cking name or I'm going to put you on the ground!"
Starcher says Coil gave the officer a prescription bottle to confirm his ID and again walked away from Kamerer – who then blasted him with pepper spray, threw him to the ground, and placed him in handcuffs.
Kamerer claims Coil threw the pill bottle at him and charged “like a football player” when he was asked for ID.
Starcher said the officer then sprayed him in the face with chemical irritant, and when he finally was able to open his eyes he saw Kamerer run into the road, where the officer and Coil were struck by an SUV.
“I heard the officer running into the road screaming, and I see the officer being pushed by the car," Starcher said afterward. "And then, all of a sudden, the car stopped and the officer flies across the road, and when the car backs up, there’s Jimmy laying in the road.”
Coil suffered a traumatic brain injury and now requires 24-hour medical care, and the officer broke several bones and spent more than a month in the hospital.
A federal judge previously rejected Kamerer’s request for immunity from a lawsuit filed by Starcher and Coil’s estate, ruling that a jury could potentially find the officer had no reason to question the couple.
A federal appeals court then sided against the officer.
"Sitting on a guardrail is not illegal,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton. “Doing so at night, whether on Christmas night or any other, does not transform this innocent activity into nefarious conduct. Walking away from an officer without answering his questions or revealing one's name does not establish reasonable suspicion.”
Kamerer argued in his appeal that Starcher resembled a wanted suspect, but the appeals court rejected the claim because the officer had failed to raise it before a lower court.
The three-judge panel found that it made no difference whether they believed the officer’s account, saying a jury could be trusted to decide which account to believe.
But the appellate court blasted Kamerer for failing to protect Coil while he was in the officer’s custody.
"Officer Kamerer took Coil into custody," Sutton wrote. "He then left him facedown, pepper-sprayed and handcuffed, in the middle of a lane open to traffic. Why he felt the need to leave him in the middle of the street in such a state is difficult to fathom. The area was dark. Coil wore dark clothing. Kamerer had not turned his police car's regular or flashing lights on. If Coil remained there for any appreciable amount of time, the risk that Coil might get struck by a passing car was painfully obvious."
The appeals court commended Kamerer for risking injury in his attempt to pull Coil from the road – but the judges found that potentially raised the officer’s conduct from negligent to merely reckless.