Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Police knowledge imputed

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Case: ADAMSON v. HAYES (D.Ariz. 9-13-2011)

What happened: Plaintiff acted strangely at the scene of a medical emergency. Police were called and even told that Plaintiff had a gun (he didn’t). Police sort of confronted Plaintiff at the scene of the medical emergency and then again at another location where they ended up arresting Plaintiff on resistance and obstruction type charges. Plaintiff was convicted, but sues on excessive force claims.

Decision: Police may end up being liable here. Once it became apparent to police that Plaintiff was not armed and not acting in a threatening manner, the level of force used by police, compared to what was reasonably needed, may be sufficiently high such that qualified immunity is overcome. A jury is needed to decide on that.

Comment: An important and disputed point of fact and law in this case was when the police officers could have been properly considered to have begun knowing that the Plaintiff was unarmed. Even beyond the vagaries inherent in determining whether any person is truly unarmed, there is the problem that different police officers at the scene had different opportunities to observe plaintiff, and different levels of knowledge about what he was carrying (a hat and a camera). The court opinion seems to impute knowledge of a couple of the police officers onto the other police officers. There are good reasons for doing this. It incentivizes police officers to communicate exculpatory facts to each other, which they otherwise might not communicate. Going further, it disincentivizes police to try to cut into Fourth Amendment rights by selectively informing police officers, who are about to do a search or seizure, about only certain “cherry picked” facts. It seems like a good mirror image of the way knowledge of incriminating facts about a suspect are legally deemed to be imputed among and between police officers in the Exclusionary Rule / suppression hearing context. Still, it is doubtful that police will like this kind of imputation of knowledge where it is generally not favorable to police in the civil case context.

Written by Burgers Allday

September 15, 2011 at 5:44 am

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