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No qualified immunity for officer in diabetic man's claim

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of summary judgment in favor of a police officer in a diabetic man’s claims that the officer used excessive force and injured him while removing him from a car after a diabetic episode.

Police Chief Jerry Price claimed qualified immunity against the Fourth Amendment violation claim by Frank McAllister. McAllister’s blood sugar plummeted while he was driving in Burns Harbor, causing him to get into an accident with two other cars. Calls to 911 reported a possible intoxicated driver; witnesses at the crash saw McAllister staring off into space, twitching, and convulsing as Price arrived at the scene.

McAllister was unable to respond to Price’s request to turn off the car or answer what was wrong with him. Price, believing he was intoxicated, pulled McAllister out of the car, threw him to the ground, and handcuffed him. Price is trained to ask if someone who appears unwell is diabetic, but did not do so until after taking him to the ground. After this, Price found McAllister’s medical alert necklace and released the handcuffs.

McAllister suffered several injuries from the incident, including a bruised lung and a broken hip. He claimed that he wasn’t hurt from the accident.

Price filed an interlocutory appeal to the 7th Circuit once the District Court denied his summary judgment motion on the excessive force issue.

In Frank McAllister v. Jerry L. Price, in his individual capacity, No. 10-1213, the Circuit judges concluded the District Court didn’t err in finding that McAllister’s injuries were relevant to determining whether Price used excessive force or in finding a genuine issue of material fact regarding McAllister’s diabetic condition.

They also found McAllister had enough evidence to create an issue of fact on whether Price’s use of force was reasonable.

“Viewed in the light most favorable to McAllister, the evidence shows that Price ignored obvious signs of McAllister’s medical condition, pulled him out of the car, and took him to the ground with such force that McAllister’s hip was broken and his lung bruised from the force of Price’s knee in his back, not because such force was necessary but because Price was 'angry' with McAllister,” wrote Judge Joel Flaum.

Even if Price was justified in using some force to remove McAllister, using the force involved here against a non-resisting suspect could have been unreasonable given the circumstances. There are other possible interpretations of the evidence, but if believed, it’s sufficient for a jury to conclude it was excessive force, noted the judge.

The judges also concluded that Price’s conduct went beyond the bounds of McAllister’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights and Price could have inferred his conduct was illegal based on previous cases dealing with excessive force.
 
 

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