The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today reversed a lower court finding that a man accused of shoplifting at a Pine Bluff Walmart could pursue an excessive force claim against a police officer who threw him to the ground so forcefully in 2017 that he said he suffered a broken collar bone, a skull fracture that required 52 stitches and permanent mental impairment from traumatic brain injury.
The 8th Circuit agreed that a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Markeith Neal’s use of force in taking down Randy McDaniel was excessive. But it found Neal was protected by qualified immunity because
… neither we nor McDaniel can identify a case or body of case law that clearly established as of August 13, 2017, that Neal’s use of force was excessive,
even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to McDaniel. Given the Supreme Court’s strict instructions on this point, we are compelled to conclude that Neal is entitled to qualified immunity.
The lower court had already dismissed claims against another officer and the city of Pine Bluff.
This is another in a long line of cases illustrative of the difficulties of pursuing excessive force claims against police. McDaniel was being held for shoplifting in a Walmart. He tried to run but Detective Tamina Smith, one of three officers present, grabbed his shirt to stop him. McDaniel grabbed her arm (to steady himself, he said.) Neal also grabbed McDaniel and pulled him away from a closed door of the Walmart loss prevention office, then put McDaniel in a bear hug and threw him to the floor. The court noted that McDaniel was unarmed, accused of a nonviolent crime and being held by officers in a room with a closed door.
Despite these circumstances, Neal proceeded to throw McDaniel to the ground with enough force to fracture his collarbone and skull and cause a brain
The footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras (BWC) does not contradict McDaniel’s version of events. In fact, the video footage and still images in the
record show that Neal lifted McDaniel high enough and with enough force for his feet to fly up in the air before throwing him down on the ground. A Wal-Mart
the employee commented afterwards, “All I saw was feet.” The same employee described McDaniel as having been “body slammed,” and other employees who
viewed a video of the events on Wal-Mart’s security camera commented that the takedown was like a move from professional wrestling. Similarly, the BWC footage and still images in the record do not “blatantly contradict” McDaniel’s assertion that his contact with Smith was incidental to her attempts to prevent him from fleeing and not a threat to her safety. In fact, Smith did not perceive McDaniel as having attacked her—on BWC recordings, she says that she grabbed him to stop him from running out the door. We affirm the district court’s conclusion that the disputed facts are material to the question of whether Neal used excessive force and that, viewing those facts in McDaniel’s favor, Neal’s use of force was excessive.
But … The court’s analysis of cases in which qualified immunity was NOT held to protect an officer found that McDaniel was not entitled to proceed against Neal. The court ordered the case returned to the lower court for dismissal. it also dismissed his claim under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.