ILNews

Police officer not entitled to qualified immunity

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a police officer isn't entitled to qualified immunity in a suit claiming excessive force because the officer didn't have a reason to point a submachine gun at the plaintiffs during the execution of a search warrant.

In Joe Baird, et al. v. John Renbarger,  No. 08-2436, Joe Baird and others who had been held temporarily during the search of Baird's industrial park filed a suit against the police involved, including John Renbarger, for excessive force. The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants but denied Renbarger's motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.

The police got a search warrant for a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr that belonged to Baird. Baird had a police officer verify the car's vehicle identification number, which an officer signed an affidavit verifying it. Later, that officer obtained the search warrant for the car because he thought the VIN may have been altered.

During the search of the industrial park, Renbarger carried a 9-millimeter submachine gun and pointed it at everyone he rounded up in the various buildings. Everyone cooperated and was released two hours later. The officers concluded the VIN wasn't altered.

The 7th Circuit used the two-step inquiry from Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001), to determine when Renbarger should be shielded from liability: if a constitutional right has been violated, and if so, whether the right was clearly established at the time the officer acted. It also relied on Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989), to conclude the use of the submachine gun was objectively unreasonable in the setting Renbarger faced. The situation involved the alteration of a VIN, not a crime involving possession of drugs or illegal weapons, wrote Judge Diane Wood. There was also no reason to suspect there was any threat to the officers' safety nor had anyone attempted to resist or flee.

Renbarger argued that he didn't know who may be in the industrial park at the time of the search, but his subjective concerns don't transform the setting into one calling for such a heavy-handed use of force, wrote the judge.

"Renbarger urges this court to view his behavior at a high level of generality; he sees it as the mere pointing of a gun. We decline to take this perspective," she wrote. "Renbarger pointed a submachine gun at various people when there was no suggestion of danger, either from the alleged crime that was being investigated or the people he was targeting. The Fourth Amendment protects against this type of behavior by the police."

A reasonable jury could conclude he violated the plaintiffs' clearly established right to be free from excessive force when he seized and held them by pointing a firearm at them when there wasn't any danger, so he isn't entitled to qualified immunity.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

ADVERTISEMENT