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IMPD excessive force claim proceeds to trial

January 18, 2018

The City of Indianapolis has lost its summary judgment argument on an excessive force claim after a district court judge determined genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the city’s policies led two police officers to use excessive force against a veteran.  

Indiana Southern District Court Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson denied the city’s motion for summary judgment Wednesday in Bradford Bohanon v. Michael Reiger, et al., 1:16-cv-02117.  Reiger and John Serban, two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, were drinking at Mikie’s Pub in Indianapolis while off-duty when Bohanon, who had come to the bar separately, began arguing with the bartender. 

Serban attempted to intervene by showing his police badge and asking Bohanon to leave the bar, but the patron threw the badge down and moved his hand toward the officer’s face. Serban then grabbed Bohanon’s elbow, while Reigner joined the confrontation and attempted to grab the man. 

Serban then began throwing punches and placed Bohanon in a chokehold. Meanwhile, Reiger continued to punch the bar patron, and the altercation eventually moved to the parking lot. 

Bohanon lost consciousness three times during the fight, and when he awoke he was bloodied and discovered money was missing from his wallet. One of the officers told Bohanon they would “find (him)” if he reported their conduct, and the officers then failed to report the incident to their supervisors or in writing.  

Then IMPD-Chief Rick Hite and IMPD Internal Affairs found Serban and Reiger had committed gross and egregious misconduct and recommended the officers for termination, though Internal Affairs did not sustain allegations they stole Bohanon’s money. Bohanon brought a series of claims against the officers, IMPD and the city, with the majority of those claims resulting in settlement or dismissal. The officers were also charged with felony battery, but were acquitted in late 2016.   

At issue in the instant case was Bohanon’s claim of excessive force against the city under the theory in Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Specifically, the Air Force veteran alleged IMPD’s General Order 3.24 caused his injuries “by permitting intoxicated officers to decide when and whether to intervene and use force.” G.O. 3.24 holds that, “While off-duty, officers with alcohol in their blood are prohibited from performing any law enforcement function or taking self-initiated police actions except in extreme situations where injury to the officer or another person is likely without law enforcement intervention.” 

The city moved for summary judgment on that claim, and while Bohanon’s case presented “difficult problems of proof,” Magnus-Stinson declined the summary judgment motion.  Likening the instant case to the 7th Circuit decision in Glisson v. Indiana Department of Corrections849 F.3d 372 (7th Cir. 2017), the chief judge said G.O. 3.24 “vested in officers the ability and responsibility for deciding when and if an ‘extreme emergency’ existed, such that the officers could intervene and use force despite being intoxicated.” 

“To borrow the phrase used in Glisson‘(o)ne does not need to be an expert’ to expect that intoxicated officers assessing a situation pursuant to G.O. 3.24 may mistakenly conclude that action is required to prevent injury to another, and therefore place themselves on duty even when doing so would be inappropriate,” she wrote. “One also does not need to be an expert to know that an intoxicated officer may be far more likely to use greater force than necessary in a physical engagement.” 

Thus, summary judgment would be inappropriate on the Monell excessive force issue, Magnus-Stinson said. The case will be set for trial. 

Also on Wednesday, Magnus-Stinson granted Bohanon’s motion for default judgment against Reiger as to his liability. Damages will be determined at a hearing, which will be conducted after Bohanon’s claims against the city are resolved.   

 

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