U.S. Supreme Court Assistant Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently weighed in on the Fifth Circuit's reversal in a qualified immunity case involving Louisiana police officers who brutally assaulted a man lying face down on the ground.
According to Law & Crime, Sotomayor described the ruling on the case, titled Tucker v. City of Shreveport, as "highly questionable" as she expressed support for Obama-appointed Circuit Judge Stephen A. Higginson's dissent.
“While this case does not meet our traditional criteria for certiorari, I write to note that the Fifth Circuit’s reversal of the District Court’s detailed order denying qualified immunity appears highly questionable for the reasons set forth by Judge Higginson’s thorough dissenting opinion,” Sotomayor concluded.
According to Tucker v. City of Shreveport, when Gregory Tucker was initially pulled over for broken tail light and license plate light, he "was violently pulled to the ground, causing his face to bleed as it smacked against the concrete. He suffered numerous injuries as a result."
While apprehended face down and not resisting, the officers “'repeatedly' punched and kicked, 'ostensibly in order to gain control of his hands and complete the arrest,'” according to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. The court's assessment also indicated that the officers "'each punched Tucker at least once, and William McIntire kicked him at least three times' as Tucker was 'kicking his legs while on the ground and was not laying still in order to allow himself to be handcuffed.'”
US District Court Judge Elizabeth Erny Foote insisted that the minor offense Tucker was pulled over for did not warrant the type of behavior displayed by the officers. She also determined that the officers' actions were unjustifiable Fourth Amendment violations.
“The misdemeanor and traffic violations of which he was suspected did not of themselves warrant a particularly high degree of force,” Foote wrote. “Once he landed on the ground, four officers surrounded him and were able to handcuff him in less than a minute; the fact that there were four officers and that Tucker was on the ground where he had less room to maneuver suggests a reduced threat to officer safety.”
The court stated:
It is undisputed that as a result of Defendant Officers’ actions, Tucker cut his forehead and strained his left shoulder. While these injuries are unlikely to be sufficiently severe if the takedown and subsequent blows were reasonable, if the police maneuvers selected were unreasonable, then these injuries may be of constitutional significance. Moreover, one can clearly hear on the video a change in the tone of Tucker’s voice; the sound is that of a man in significant pain. Tucker has also testified that he had a black eye for several days after the incident, a headache, and a “sprung” knee. More significantly, he has testified to psychological damage, including extreme fear of the police that affects his ability to navigate the world. Because the Court must make inferences in Tucker’s favor on summary judgment, the Court finds that he has established a constitutional injury.
However, Foote's assessment was overruled by the Fifth Circuit. “It is only with respect to the legal significance of those facts where we ultimately part ways with the district court,” said Circuit Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt wrote, who was appointed by Former President George W. Bush.
The judge wrote, “Considering the record in this manner, we find the district court erred in concluding that the conduct of Officers McIntire and Cisco—in taking Tucker to the ground—was objectively unreasonable in light of pertinent clearly established law in November 2016."