Ferguson, Missouri protester, following the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, have won reinstatement of his police brutality suit Tuesday asserting that officers “took turns punching and kicking” him and held his head under water.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, reinstated a civil rights case by one of 10 people arrested in sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, protests following the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Brown.
Brown’s death and the protests it sparked became the inspiration for the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations that have followed throughout the country.
DeWayne Matthews was left a bus headed to his mother’s house in the area of a violent protest on August 13, 2014. As he walked through increasingly thick tear gas and smoke an officer ordered him to turn around and walk away, but Matthews kept walking toward the police line, the court said.
He was then hit by five bean bag rounds and four rubber bullets and fell into a culvert at the side of the road, which had two to three feet of water. Matthews testified that before officers pulled him from the culvert they held his face underwater for up to five seconds then slammed his face into the pavement.
Five or six officers then punched and kicked him while using racial slurs and used pepper spray while handcuffing him.
Matthews and nine other protesters arrested during the days of protests sued for civil rights violation, false arrest, excessive force and failure to train and manage the officers. The trial court dismissed the claims and held officers were immune from suit and found no evidence of malice or bad faith.
The appeals court reinstated only Matthews claims. While the court concluded it was permissible for the four officers named in the suit to push Matthews to the ground and put a knee in his back to arrest him, the other conduct went too far.
“Matthews was lying on the ground, handcuffed, and not resisting arrest while officers kicked, punched, and pepper sprayed him,” wrote Judge Diana Murphy. “Matthews also testified that while he was lying face down in the culvert, officers approached him and held his head underwater for three to five seconds. This is the type of gratuitous force that is objectively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
The panel reinstated his excessive force claim and the claim of failure to train, supervise, and discipline the officers. Murphy was joined by Judges James Loken and Michael Melloy.
The appeals court upheld dismissal of the claims by the remaining nine protesters.
White v. Jackson, No. 16-3897