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Justices order trial on reasonable force issue

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A law enforcement officer’s use of force in excess of reasonable force authorized by statute isn't shielded from liability under the "enforcement of a law" immunity under Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-3(8), the Indiana Supreme Court held today.


The justices ruled on the issue of immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act in Richard Patrick Wilson and Billy Don Wilson v. Gene Isaacs, Sheriff of Cass County, and Brad Craven, No. 09S05-1003-CV-149. Brothers Patrick and Billy Don Wilson sued Sheriff Gene Isaacs and Deputy Brad Craven for damages after Craven used a Taser on Richard three times, two of which happened after he was already immobile on the ground. The defendants were granted summary judgment by the trial court; the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed for Craven but reversed as to Isaac.


At issue in the appeal is whether the law enforcement immunity is available to shield the government from liability on claims of excess force. The brothers argue the government isn’t immune from liability for Craven’s conduct because disputed facts exist as to whether the deputy used unreasonable and excessive force contrary to Indiana statute.


The Supreme Court held in Kemezy v. Peters that the use of excessive force is not conduct immunized by the enforcement of a law immunity of the Indiana Tort Claims Act; the defendants argued that rule no longer applies because it was based on a public/private duty test for law enforcement immunity that was later disavowed in other caselaw.


 The high court relied on Patrick v. Miresso, 848 N.E.2d 1083 (Ind. 2006), to find that the statutory provision authorizing a law enforcement officer’s use of reasonable force only if the officer reasonably believes the force is necessary for a lawful arrest restrains the statutory immunity from erecting a shield to liability for conduct contrary to the statute, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. The justice also disapproved the contrary view expressed in City of Anderson v. Davis, 743 N.E.2d 359, 365 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001).


"Although we conclude that the law enforcement immunity of the Indiana Tort Claims Act does not shield the government from liability for excessive force by police, there remain genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Deputy Craven's conduct was reasonable and whether he reasonably believed that the force he used was 'necessary to effect a lawful arrest,'" wrote the justice.


The high court summarily affirmed summary judgment on the plaintiffs' claims against Deputy Craven personally. Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard dissented without opinion.  
 

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