The Institute for Justice, as part of its Project on Immunity and Accountability that seeks to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their misbehavior, is asking the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a decision from one of its panels allowing police torture on unresisting victims.
The Institute reported that it, with others, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of victims of police violence with the appeals court.
It’s because a smaller panel in the court “held that a Fort Worth, Texas, police officer did not use unreasonable force when he wrenched a handcuffed, non-resisting woman’s arms behind her back.”
The report explains she apparently wasn’t answering the questions he asked fast enough.
“In this country, government officials should not be able to use force and violence to coerce individuals into answering questions,” said IJ Attorney Alexa Gervasi, the author of the brief. “Such an action is a blatant constitutional violation.”
The case developed late in 2016 when Jacqueline Craig told police that a neighbor had choked her 7-year-old son for littering.
“Rather than take the allegations seriously, Fort Worth Texas Police Officer William Martin interrupted Jacqueline to ask why she didn’t teach her son not to litter; he then suggested the neighbor’s violence was justified because her 7-year-old ‘broke the law.’ When Jacqueline objected to the officer’s suggestion, Martin warned that if she kept yelling at him, he would arrest her…”
Then he did, putting her in the back of a police car, and forcing her 15-year-old daughter there too, kicking her “when she didn’t get into his police vehicle fast enough.”
Then he arrested Jacqueline’s 18-year-old daughter, Brea Hymond, who had been recording the encounter from a distance.
It was then that his actions went beyond the pale, the Institute reported.
“While Martin stood by his patrol vehicle, effortlessly holding Brea by his side with a single hand, Brea repeated that she saw Martin kick her little sister. In response, Martin started questioning Brea: ‘How old are you? What is your name?’ Brea did not immediately answer his questions. So, with Brea’s hands restrained behind her back, Martin jerked her arms up into the air, applying a pain control maneuver taught in police training, and repeated the question, enunciating in a slow, purposeful staccato: ‘What. Is. Your. Name?'”
Explained the Institute, “In other words, a police officer purposefully inflicted pain on a restrained, non-resisting person to force her to answer his questions. ”
A district court ruling found that Martin was liable because the victim’s constitutional rights in such situations had been “clearly established.”
But three judges on the 5th Circuit then reversed the decision, claiming that Martin did not, in fact, violate any constitutional rights.
The panel justified the use of “a pain control maneuver.”
“The panel’s decision sets a dangerous precedent that an officer can inflict pain on a restrained, non-resisting person to compel her to answer his questions,” said IJ Attorney Patrick Jaicomo. “It is absolutely crucial that the en banc court steps in and corrects this dangerous legal error.”
“Even accepting the panel’s version of events, Martin’s behavior was obviously unconstitutional,” the brief explained. “Every reasonable officer would have known that inflicting pain to compel someone to answer questions offends the Constitution.”
The officer later claimed he used the pain-producing maneuver he learned in police training because the teen “posed a potential risk of escaping.” But the brief notes a video shows that the officer was “easily” holding the 18-year-old with “a single hand” and produced the pain-producing move because she didn’t answer him quickly.
The brief warned the full court, “If this decision stands, the law in this circuit is that an officer can purposefully inflict pain on a restrained, non-resisting person to compel her to speak…”
Critically, the brief charges, “the panel did not find that Hymond was physically or actively resisting Martin. It merely found that she did not answer his questions…”
“This,” the filing said, “contradicts clearly established law.”
Other cases in the Institute’s program include one where a Homeland Security agent was on video threatening to shoot someone in the head – and pulling the trigger of a loaded weapon, which jammed.
And in Minnesota, a teen named Hamdi Mohamud was “framed” by a police officer and arrested for crimes she did not commit.
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