A man’s federal lawsuit against two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and the city will go forward after a federal judge rejected one officer’s interlocutory appeal.
Miguel Gutierrez sued IMPD officers Michael Kermon and Jason Thalheimer in February 2011, alleging wrongful arrest, use of excessive force and malicious prosecution after an arrest.
Gutierrez, 56, was born in Nicaragua but has lived in the U.S. more than 30 years, according to court records. He was walking home one night in March 2009 after working on his truck, and because he lives in a high-crime area, he carried a golf club for his protection.
Kermon was patrolling the area in response to a call about a fight involving two African-Americans and another person, and he relied on Gutierrez’s “unsteady gait” as part of the probable cause for a stop resulting in a public intoxication charge that later was thrown out.
Gutierrez said he doesn’t drink and his gait was due to an injury. He claims in his federal suit that Kermon rolled up with headlights off and didn’t identify himself as an officer when he ordered him to stop. Gutierrez claims Kermon pepper sprayed him, kicked him and broke his ribs, and refused to give him a breath test when he asked for one.
Kermon asked the 7th Circuit to reverse a District Court denial of his motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Judge Diane Wood wrote the court had no jurisdiction because Kermon relied on Gutierrez’s disputed unsteadiness, and the court will not reweigh evidence.
“Officer Kermon’s entire argument is dependent upon a disputed fact. Our cases have given fair warning that an interlocutory appeal will be dismissed if the argument for qualified immunity is dependent upon disputed facts,” Wood wrote in Miguel Gutierrez v. Michael R. Kermon, 12-2934. “Officer Kermon’s unabashed reliance on that disputed fact in support of his plea for qualified immunity deprives us of jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal. We therefore dismiss this appeal.”
Wood also chastised the undisputed facts Kermon cited to make his immunity argument on appeal: Gutierrez’s dirty, disheveled appearance, his possession of a golf club; his apparent agitation and lack of cooperation, and his red, watery eyes.
“No reasonable officer could have reasonably, even if mistakenly, believed that these circumstances added up to probable cause that Gutierrez was committing the crime of public intoxication,” Wood wrote.
“The district court found that the issue of whether Gutierrez was swaying or walking with an unsteady gait is a genuine factual dispute in need of a jury’s attention.”
Gutierrez’s suit before Judge Tayna Walton Pratt in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana is Miguel Gutierrez v. The City of Indianapolis, Michael R. Kermon and Jason M. Thalheimer, 1:11-CV-0185. A jury trial date has not yet been set.