Man paralyzed after being thrown into sheriff’s van can proceed with claims against Indy, council, judge rules

A federal judge is allowing two claims against Indianapolis police and the City-County Council to move forward after a man alleged law enforcement left him paralyzed after he was thrown headfirst into the back of a van without safety restraints.

In a Monday order, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson partially granted and partially denied a second motion by the defense for judgment on the pleadings in Travis Shinneman v. Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council, et al.1:21-cv-02203.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2021, alleges Travis Shinneman is paralyzed from the neck down and requires around-the-clock care after Indianapolis Metro Police Department officers arrested him for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. The officers handed Shinneman over to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to be taken to jail in September 2019.

According to the complaint, IMPD officers handcuffed Shinneman during the incident and threw him into the back of a MCSO van for transport. By the time he arrived at the jail 20 minutes later, Shinneman alleges he couldn’t hold his body weight up after lying on the floorboards.

Shinneman also claims he was assaulted by “several deputies” and was denied proper care before he was transported to Eskenazi Hospital, where he was diagnosed as a quadriplegic.

The defendants, listed as officers with both law enforcement agencies as well as other city officials, moved for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12 (c)the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.

In the Monday order, Shinneman didn’t object to the dismissals of the official-capacity claims against four IMPD officers, state law claims against the four officers or state law claims against the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council.

However, two sets of claims against the city defendants remained: Fourth Amendment claims against the four IMPD officers and a Monell policy claim against the City-County Council.

Magnus-Stinson concluded that some of the Fourth Amendment claims could advance, but officers were protected by qualified immunity on others.

“Mr. Shinneman’s allegations that one of the four IMPD officers participated in tossing him headfirst into the MCSO van while he was handcuffed, and that the remaining officers failed to intervene, state a viable Fourth Amendment claim,” she wrote. “A reasonable jury could conclude that it was objectively unreasonable to either participate or fail to intervene in this conduct.

“… On the other hand, an arrestee’s right to a seatbelt was not clearly established in September 2019,” the judge continued. “In (Dale v. Agresta), the Seventh Circuit observed: ‘Neither the Supreme Court nor this court has ruled that transporting an inmate without a seatbelt creates an intolerable risk of harm.’ Dale was decided a mere three months before Mr. Shinneman’s arrest.

Dale involved a convicted inmate and the more rigorous Eighth Amendment standard. But absent a Fourth Amendment case to the contrary, a reasonable officer could conclude from Dale that the transport of an inmate without a seatbelt was not objectively unreasonable. Officers … are entitled to qualified immunity on Mr. Shinneman’s seatbelt claim.”

Regarding his Monell claim, Shinneman argued the City-County Council maintained a policy of using MCSO for the transport of arrestees despite knowing that MCSO transport vehicles lacked seatbelts or other safety restraints.

The district court dismissed Shinneman’s failure to train claim.

“… (W)hile Dale held that it was not clearly established that convicted inmates had a right to a seatbelt during transport, the court left the door open to the possibility of such a right existing and supporting a Monell claim … ,” Magnus-Stinson wrote. “Here, Mr. Shinneman claims that the Council maintained a policy of using MCSO for the transport of arrestees (IMPD General Order 8.1(I)(F), that the Order did not give IMPD officers discretion to consider transport alternatives, that the Council knew MCSO transport vehicles lacked seatbelts or other restraints, and that this policy directly led to his injuries. These allegations give the Council fair notice and state a plausible Monell claim.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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