Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Barfield v. Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 182 (4th Cir. Jan. 7, 2016) (unpublished)

with 2 comments

The Fourth Circuit is notoriously hostile to civil claims against police.  I think this case is a good example of how they got that rep.  Court completely discounts plaintiff’s version of the arrest, which was that the deputy ambushed him from behind a tree in plaintiff’s yard and tackled plaintiff to the ground when investigating a noise complaint.  Even if plaintiff was the one making the noise,* this ambush and tackling by the deputy** seems like a pretty clear 4A excessive force type violation.

ON EDIT:  As a commenter correctly points out, the the Fourth Circuit appellate court did deny qualified immunity on excessive force, so this decision isn’t quite as bad as I thought.  I still think there was a triable issue as to whether the deputy really heard yelling.  Assuming the arrest went down as plaintiff and his wife said, and giving due consideration that the deputy chose to make a custodial arrest at all in these circumstances, I am not really inclined to trust the deputy’s claim of having heard yelling.

Link to decision

Hat tip:  Fourth Amendment Blog for blogging this case (which is not to imply that Mr. Hall agrees with my spin on the case here).


* There is at least some reason to believe that plaintiff wasn’t the one making the noise, and that the report of noise may have been fabricated by a hostile neighbor of plaintiff’s.

**   The opinion does not make it clear whether the police denied or admitted to arresting plaintiff in this violent way. However, on a summary judgement motion by police, as in this case, the plaintiff is legally assumed to be telling the truth.

Written by Burgers Allday

January 10, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Having read the opinion in this case, it sounds like the right outcome to me.

    The false arrest claims were granted immunity as the officer had 1) a report of the plaintiff yelling and 2) actual observation of the yelling – though the observation was by hearing, rather than seeing it. That seems to me to be enough to constitute a crime in the presence of the officer, albeit only barely. Of course, if a reasonable officer would have known of the neighbor shenanigans I think that defeats (2) above, but that’s not clear in the opinion, though it may have been in the underlying case.

    The excessive force claim was not granted immunity here – the lower court had granted immunity, and the appellate court overturned the immunity and sent that claim back for trial. So the question of whether “bulldogging” (from the opinion) or tackling from behind is appropriate or not without first talking to the plaintiff goes to trial, which also sounds right.

    What am I missing here?

    Robert Beckman

    January 12, 2016 at 11:41 am

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