Jun 20

Police Misconduct? City of St. Paul Says No!

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***This case has an update. Read about our success:

http://www.magnalaw.net/eighth-circuit-panel-finds-that-plaintiffs-excessive-force-case-can-proceed-to-trial/

On June 15, 2018, our law firm argued an excessive force case of critical importance before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.   The case is titled Robin Neal vs. Daniel Ficcaenti et al.

Link to Oral Argument Audio: http://media-oa.ca8.uscourts.gov/OAaudio/2018/6/172633.MP3

In brief, the facts of the case are that on the evening of June 6, 2012, our client, Robin Neal, (“Mr. Neal”) was leaving a bar in St. Paul with two of his friends.  St. Paul police believed that Mr. Neal fit the description of another black man who had allegedly left the bar to retrieve a handgun from his vehicle.   This suspect was reported as being 40-years of age, of heavy build, wearing a baseball cap, and a red and white shirt. Mr. Neal is of slender build.  He was dressed in black shorts and a black t-shirt on the evening in question.  He was in his fifties.

After leaving the bar, Mr. Neal and his friends entered their vehicle. Video evidence shows several squad cars surround the vehicle and police ordering Mr. Neal to step outside the car.  The scene was one of chaos and confusion as at least two officers stationed at different locations were yelling at Mr. Neal to walk towards them.  The video shows Mr. Neal at times being confused as to which officer’s instructions he should follow. Also, sirens were blaring and K-9’s at the scene were barking.  Mr. Neal began walking towards one of the officers that had commanded him to walk towards him. Mr. Neal walked towards this officer with his hands up as ordered but as he came within arms-length of the officer, the officer grabbed Mr. Neal and from a standing position slammed him to the ground front-side first.   Mr. Neal suffers from sickle cell anemia. The officer’s assault brought on the onset of a sickle cell crisis. Mr. Neal also sustained a ruptured disc in his neck as a result of the assault.

The individual suspected to have retrieved a handgun was later apprehended. After his arrest, police discovered a hammer, not a handgun in his waistband.    Mr. Neal was charged with obstruction of legal process in connection with this incident.  Those charges were later dismissed at Mr. Neal’s first court appearance.

The Saint Paul Police Policies and Procedures Manual expressly forbids officers from using physical force to effect an arrest, “unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or would be clearly ineffective under the circumstances.” In this case, Neal complied with the officer’s commands by walking towards the officer with his hands up, even though he had done nothing wrong, and in nowise fit the description of the alleged suspect.

The case is being adjudicated in the United States District Court District of Minnesota.  The Saint Paul Police Department (“SPPD”) brought a motion to dismiss the case on qualified immunity grounds, essentially arguing that the case should be dismissed because Mr. Neal did not have a clearly established constitutional right to be free from the force that the officer used in this case.  The District Court Judge denied this motion and the SPPD appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, one step removed from the United States Supreme Court.

The Eighth Circuit must decide the question of whether Mr. Neal’s right to be free from physical force under these circumstances,  when he was obeying officer commands and was not the suspect other police were looking for, was clearly established at the time.

The ramifications of the Court’s decision here are enormous.  If officers are permitted to resort to violent force to arrest a suspect who is one hundred percent compliant with officer commands, one wonders under what circumstances an officer can be found to have used excessive force against a  suspect.

Win or lose, the Magna Law Firm will continue to fight for the rights of those whose constitutional rights have been violated by those in positions of power. We appreciate your thoughts, prayers and support of our law firm in this endeavor.

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