McCoy v Meyers – 10th Cir (10APR2018)

McCoy v Meyers – 10th Cir (10APR2018)

As you can probably tell from the case caption, this case is a civil suit. In this 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, the plaintiff alleges that law enforcement officers used excessive force in arresting him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Unfortunately, as is all too often the situation, this case started with a noncustodial parent refusing to return a minor child back to the custodial parent. As many of you know, these types of situations can often get out of hand and this one certainly did.

Back in March 2011 the plaintiff in this case Mr. McCoy checked into a room at the budget in in Hutchinson Kansas with his baby daughter and his sister.  A couple of days later the mother of the child along with her friend arrived at the motel to retrieve the child. The mother called the police and told them that McCoy was not going to allow her to take her daughter and also told them that he was in the hotel room and had a gun.

Shortly thereafter the police arrived at the budget in an attempted to make contact with Mr. McCoy but he would not respond to the attempted communication and he remained inside the motel room. As a result, the police requested assistance from the ERT to respond to this dangerous situation involving an armed individual with two potential hostages (his sister and infant daughter).

Several hours after the initial response by the police, the ERT forced entry into the motel room and at that time all five of the ERT officers saw Mr. McCoy holding a gun. Mr. McCoy alternated between pointing the gun in the sister’s direction and pointing it at the first three officers to enter the room. Demonstrating remarkable restraint in the face of this deadly situation, the officers immediately started to shout “drop the gun” and approximately 30 to 45 seconds after they first shouted drop the gun Mr. McCoy dropped the gun.

When McCoy dropped the gun the officers moved in, removing the sister and the daughter from the room and attempting to restrain McCoy. While attempting to restrain McCoy one of the officers shouted that “he’s grabbing my gun.” The officers got Mr. McCoy to the ground face down and placed them in a carotid restraint that caused him to lose consciousness. While he was unconscious the officers handcuffed McCoy behind his back and zip tied his feet together. When he regained consciousness, he was handcuffed and his legs were restrained. Another officer entered the room while McCoy was unconscious and revived him. As McCoy regained consciousness, and according to his version of the facts which must be considered for the purposes of summary judgment, unidentified officers struck him again more than 10 times on his head shoulders back and arms. After this, officers placed him in carotid restraint for a second time until he again lost consciousness. McCoy was then removed from the motel room and put in of the police car. All of this happened in less than 10 minutes from the point the ERT made entry to the point McCoy was put in the car.

At the trial level, the District Court granted summary judgment for the officers who sought qualified immunity for the force used to arrest Mr. McCoy. On appeal, the 10th Circuit divided the incident into two parts which they called the pre-restraint part and the post restraint part. The 10th circuit granted qualified immunity to the officers for the pre-restraint use of but denied qualified immunity for the post restraint use of force.

If you have read any of my previous blog posts or have listened to any of my podcasts regarding qualified immunity in 1983 actions, you know there are two questions that the court will answer in determining whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity on summary judgment. It’s important to remember that in a motion for summary judgment the court will not resolve genuine disputes of fact and therefore if there are disputed facts the court will consider the version that favors the plaintiff in the case at this early stage of the civil trial. The two questions to be answered are: 1. Was there a constitutional violation? In other words, was the degree of force used unreasonable? And 2. Was it clearly established at the time forced was used that this degree of force is unreasonable? In other words, based on previous cases with very similar facts, would a reasonable officer be on notice that this degree of force was unreasonable? The Supreme Court has ruled that these two questions can be answered in any order and the courts need not decide if there was a constitutional violation before determining that it wasn’t clearly established without determining whether there was a violation.

In the first part of their decision regarding the pre-restraint use of force, the court skipped the first question and went straight to the second question and determined that regarding the pre-restraint use of force, pre-existing precedent would not have made it clear to every reasonable officer that using the force employed in this specific case violates the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, they granted the officers qualified immunity for the force used prior to the point in time that Mr. McCoy was handcuffed and zip tied.

In the second part of their decision regarding the post restraint use of force, the court applied the Graham factors and determined that the degree of force used after Mr. McCoy was restrained with handcuffs and zip ties was unreasonable under the fourth amendment. Although the severity of the crime was significant, Mr. McCoy presented no threat at that point in time and was not trying to attempt flight or actively resist being arrested. The court further held that the unreasonableness of this degree of force in a post restraint situation is clearly established and cited three specific cases in support of that conclusion. Accordingly, taking the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court denied qualified immunity for the officers on their motion for summary judgment for the force used after Mr. McCoy was handcuffed and zip tied.

To download the full PDF version of the case CLICK HERE.