A jury verdict against a Marion County sheriff’s deputy in a jail inmate’s excessive force case has been vacated after a federal magistrate judge found insufficient evidence to support an excessive-force conviction.
Indiana Southern District Magistrate Judge Tim A. Baker on Friday granted a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 in favor of Deputy Long, one of four officers sued by inmate Glenna Taylor.
Taylor was detained – in her words, “improperly” – at the Marion County Jail on July 15, 2017, when an altercation ensued between her and Long, Sgt. Clark, Deputy Shambaugh and Deputy Edwards. Online court records show Taylor was facing allegations of misdemeanor driving while suspended with a knowing violation and a prior conviction, though the case was dismissed in April 2019.
Taylor alleged she was “thrown against a wall, struck in the abdomen and the back of her knees, and was choked,” though she did not attribute specific actions to specific officers. She initially filed suit in Marion Superior Court before the case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, where a jury trial was held.
At the close of Taylor’s evidence, the officers filed a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Long only. Baker allowed the jury to decide the case against Long but took the Rule 50 motion under advisement.
The jury ultimately returned verdicts in favor of Clark, Shambaugh and Edwards but against Long, awarding Taylor $21,000 in damages. The defense then revived the Rule 50 motion, and Baker agreed that the verdict against Long should be vacated.
“Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, the only evidence the jury heard in this case in relation to Long was that she threw a specimen cup at Plaintiff and later put her in handcuffs,” Baker wrote Friday. “The specimen cup did not hit Plaintiff. This act does not indicate use of excessive force, and Plaintiff offered no further evidence specifically asserting that Long used force in putting handcuffs on her; rather, she completely discounted the idea that Long used handcuffs at all.”
Taylor had testified generally that she was attacked “by the officers” and that her head was slammed against a wall, but she did not attribute that conduct specifically to Long, Baker continued. In fact, he wrote, the head-slamming incident happened after Taylor was placed in an elevator – a time when both she and long testified they were no longer together.
“Nevertheless, Plaintiff argues that the jury could have inferred Long slammed Plaintiff into a wall from the circumstantial evidence presented at trial,” he wrote. “… Plaintiff had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that each individual Defendant used unreasonable force against her, which required a specific jury finding for each Defendant individually. No such circumstantial evidence was presented in this case.”
Though the Rule 50 motion was granted on evidentiary grounds, Baker also addressed the defense’s alternate argument that Long was entitled to qualified immunity. Agreeing with that argument, the magistrate judge looked to the recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Day v. Wooten, 947 F.3d 453 (7th Cir. 2020).
“Here, the evidence does not support a finding that Long violated any specific constitutional right of Plaintiff,” he wrote. “… Plaintiff’s evidence indicated that at most, Long threw a specimen cup at Plaintiff that missed her, and then grabbed her arm to handcuff her. These facts, without more, do not rise to the level of a violation of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”
Baker concluded, “When Defendants moved for relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 at the close of Plaintiff’s evidence, the Court very nearly dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against Long. However, the Court opted to allow the jury to decide the issue in the first instance, while keeping the motion under advisement.
“The jury found for the other Defendants, but against Long. With due respect for the province of the jury, the evidence does not support the verdict against Long and it cannot stand.”
Thus, judgment will be entered in favor of all four defendants, Baker said.