‘Cuff Him Danno, He’s an 11-Year-Old

‘Cuff him Danno.  Really?  He’s only 11-years-old.  Yes, really.

A split 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Thursday vacated a California jury verdict favoring an 11-year-old boy in a civil suit by against the city of Sonora and two police officers who handcuffed him at school and drove him to a relative’s business.

The court held that because the trial judge had extensive unscripted talk to jurors was “so confusing and potentially misleading” it required a new trial.  In addition, the trial judge concluded the original jury verdict favoring the officers was incomplete and sent them back to re-deliberate after extensive colloquies with the jury.

Jurors then returned with a verdict favoring the child, identified only as C.B.

“In sum, in more than one way, the district court improperly sent a message to the jurors that they got it wrong the first time,” said Judge Thomas Zilly, a visiting judge from Seattle.  He was joined by Judge Paul Watford.

The majority ruled the city was entitled to a new trial, but the two officers were immune on federal claims.

In dissent, Judge Margaret McKeown agreed that the case should go back for a new trial but said the two officers should not be immune from C.B.’s Fourth Amendment violation claims.

“The officers found an 80-pound 11-year-old child, seated calmly and silently on a bench staring at the ground,” she said.  In no more than five minutes of trying to engage the child in conversation, they officers ordered C.B. to stand with his hands behind his back, handcuffed him and put him in the back of a police car. “The facts demonstrate that C.B.’s prolonged detention was unconstitutional,” she said.

C.B., who suffered from attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, forgot to take his medication in 2008 and was had a difficult day.

At one point he fled from the school and a man who found him and returned him to school, told a coach that C.B. said he was “tired of Feeling the way he felt and he wanted to go out into traffic and kill himself.”

Eventually the police were called and the officers tried to talk to C.B. but he was unresponsive.  The officers said they feared C.B. might run toward the busy street and they would be forced to restrain him and it might injury the child.  So they used handcuffs, lead him to a patrol car and took him to an uncle’s business nearby.

C.B. accused the city and officers of false imprisonment, intentional inflection of emotional distress and unlawful seizure and excessive force.

Jurors found largely in favor of the defendants, but the judge found the verdict form incomplete and conflicting.  Over two days, the judge gave a series of answers and long, unscripted responses to juror questions about the verdict, then sent them back to deliberate.

Four hours later they returned with a verdict opposite the one they initially reached.

Judges may still resubmit an inconsistent verdict for clarification but giving supplemental jury instructions can’t misstate the law, according to the panel majority.

The Sonora School District settled separately.

No. C.B. v. City of Sonora, No. 11-17454



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