The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to stand a lower court ruling that effectively determined not understanding a police officer’s instructions is the equivalent of resisting.
The startling conclusion came in a case brought by lawyers working on behalf of Jeriel Edwards, who alleged he was deprived of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force and well as his right to have a jury decide his case.
The high court declined to overturn the lower court’s result “that justifies the use of excessive force by police on people who don’t’ understand police orders,” explained officials with the Rutherford Institute, who worked on Edwards’ case.
“If you ask police what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with law enforcement, they will tell you to comply, cooperate, obey, not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
“The problem is what to do when compliance is not enough. How can you maintain the illusion of freedom when daily, Americans are being shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, challenge an order or merely exist?”
The legal team explained the background:
On October 25, 2016, Jeriel Edwards was sitting in his car in the parking lot of a Muskogee Wendy’s restaurant in Muskogee, Okla., when he was approached by a police officer and ordered to put the car in park and provide his identification. According to body and dashboard camera video, the officer then ordered Edwards to exit the vehicle and remove his hands from his pockets. Edwards complied with all of the officer’s orders. A second Muskogee police officer arrived at the scene. Edwards was ordered to face the vehicle and place his hands behind his back. One officer grabbed Edwards’ right arm while the other officer shoved his head into the corner of the car door. Edwards was then slammed to the pavement. As the officers pushed Edwards’ head and neck to the ground, they also placed a knee on his body to pin him to the ground. Edwards repeatedly asked why the officers were abusing him, but got no answer. Instead, the first officer fired a taser at Edwards as he lay on the ground. A third officer arrived on the scene and made two striking motions at Edwards, the impact of which can be heard on the body camera video. A fourth officer arrived at the scene and put Edwards in a chokehold. As the four officers dragged Edwards to the ground, another joined the fray and held Edwards down by digging his knee into his body. Edwards lost consciousness en route to the hospital, where he was admitted to the ICU. Despite this brutality, the trial court granted summary judgment for the police in Edwards’ excessive force lawsuit against them without even allowing Edwards a trial to have a jury consider the evidence, a ruling which was affirmed on appeal.
The Rutherford Institute, joined by lawyers at the Supreme Court Clinic at the University of Texas, had sought to have Oklahoma police held accountable for their actions.
The Institute lawyers note that Edwards was inebriated but was complying with police orders when he was brutalized.
Video of the encounter:
The officers claimed Edwards was under the influence of PCP and posed a threat during the confrontation.
There was no weapon found on Edwards or in his car.
Further, the video shows the officers did not give Edwards time to follow their order to put his hands behind his back, Rutherford contended.
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