Fifth Circuit once again misapplies the summary judgement standard in favor of the police
With the Tolan decision this week, some people are beginning to notice that the Fifth Circuit has developed a habit of believing the police a bit too much on summary judgement motions in civil suits against the police. On May 6th, they did it again. Judge Dennis’s nice dissent describes the disputed, and undisputed, facts of the case:
On April 26, 2010, at approximately 11:00 p.m., officers of the Palestine Police Department [hereinafter “PPD”] stopped a vehicle in which Claudia Dawson was a passenger. During the traffic stop, Dawson was arrested for public intoxication and interference with public duties, two misdemeanor charges. PPD officers brought Dawson to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and requested that the Anderson County Officers conduct a strip search. The Anderson County officers were never informed of the basis for the PPD officers’ request for the strip search but nonetheless complied.
Officers Sarah Wells and Cheneya Farmer took Dawson into the “dress-out room” where they instructed Dawson to remove her clothes. Once undressed, Dawson was ordered to squat down and cough. Dawson attests that she complied with this initial order. Once the strip search was in progress, a third officer, Karen Giles, entered. According to Dawson, after she had already complied with the order to squat and cough, one of the officers then stated that she would force Dawson to “squat and cough all night until [she got] tired of looking.” Dawson asserts that in response, without yelling, she told the officers that she could not be forced to squat and cough all night. Promptly after this exchange, Sergeant Darryl Watson briefly entered the dress-out room and instructed Officer Giles to shoot Dawson with a pepperball gun. Officer Giles then fired the first shot, which did not hit Dawson. Giles then quickly fired the second shot, which hit Dawson in the left side of her abdomen, causing her to bend over in a “fetal” position. Dawson attests that she then told the officers that she could be pregnant and, if she was, that they could not shoot at her. Officer Giles then fired the third shot, which hit Dawson in her right knee. According to Dawson, the two shots broke her skin and caused substantial bleeding. Dawson further alleges that throughout the strip search, the officers laughed at her expense and were verbally abusive. One female officer allegedly stated that she “wish[ed] [she] was certified to shoot this bitch up with the pepper ball gun.”
It is undisputed that throughout the strip search, and while all of the shots were fired, Dawson was unclothed, standing within one to two feet of the wall in the dress-out room, and was surrounded by multiple officers, at least one of whom was armed with a perpperball gun. It is also undisputed that Dawson never struck or attempted to strike an officer.
What is disputed is Dawson’s level of compliance. Officer Giles testified that during the strip search, Dawson was belligerent, yelled, threatened the officers, and got “too close” to Officer Farmer. Officer Farmer testified that Dawson did not comply with the initial order to squat and cough, or any order thereafter, until she was shot with the pepperball gun. Sergeant Watson testified that if Dawson had complied with the first order to squat and cough— as Dawson asserts she had—then she would have been in compliance and that any further orders to squat and cough would have been improper, agreeing that the officers “don’t have any business harassing [detainees].”
Dawson v. Anderson County, Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit 2014