Federal 1983 lawsuit for excessive force by using a taser was incorrectly thrown out by the trial court
Stryker filed a federal lawsuit against three officers of the Homewood Alabama Police Department for excessive force in violation of the Constitution and for state law claims for assault and battery. The incident resulted from his arrest for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and failing to comply with a lawful order of a city officer. Stryker was a commercial truck driver. After he who arrived at Walmart Store at 2:00 a.m. with his delivery, he was approached by a Homewood Police Officer who told Stryker a woman called the police accusing Stryker of hitting her car on the highway.
Stryker’s version of what happened next was drastically different from the police officer’s version. Under Stryker’s version, he took out a camera to take photographs of the woman’s car, something his company required him to do in the event of an accident. The defendant officer told him not to take photos and to put away the camera. As went to return to his truck, without warning the officer tased him and kicked him when he fell to the ground. As he tried to get away the officer struck him multiple times in the face breaking his jaw. Stryker managed to get into the cab of his truck but the officer broke into the cab, and with other officers that had arrived, they removed him and continued to beat and kick him.
In the officer’s version he was attempting to walk Stryker back to his truck when Stryker elbowed him so the officer tried to take him to the ground using an arm-bar technique. When that failed, Stryker pulled away and tried to get into his truck, striking the officer. Only then did he deploy his taser. After the other officers arrived, they struck him on the head after he was on the ground but claimed the strikes were necessary to gain compliance.
The federal trial judge granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment and dismissed Stryker’s 1983 excessive force lawsuit, finding that the defendant officers were not liable for their conduct. The trial judge ruled the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for their actions because they did not violate Stryker’s constitutional right to be free from excessive force.
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit. It agreed with Stryker that the defendant officers used excessive force when they initially tasered and when they kicked, struck, and choked him once he was out of the truck and compliant. This was excessive even though he posed on no threat and was complying with the officer’s instructions. Finding this conduct was not reasonable, the appeals court found that the underlying crime of a misdemeanor municipal ordinance violation for failing to comply was not sufficiently severe under these circumstances to justify the use of force against him. Under Stryker’s version of the facts, he was not resisting or fleeing when he was shot in the back with a taser. Though there was probable cause to arrest him for his previous noncompliance, the crime at issue was not sever.