Cop Not Liable for Alleged Traffic Stop Injuries
(CN) - A police officer is not liable for using force to handcuff a woman who refused to sign her speeding ticket without a red pen, a federal judge ruled.
Patrice Appleby was driving in Mitchell County, Georgia, when she was pulled over for speeding by Trooper William West.
West issued Appleby a ticket, and asked her to sign it, but Appleby told him she needed to sign it with a red pen.
Appleby wanted to use a red pen because she had previously been a victim of identity theft. She "made a decision to sign all official, original documents with a red signature as part of a larger plan to protect her signature and identity from future abuses," according to her complaint filed in the Northern District of Georgia.
When West told her he did not have a red pen, Appleby said she would need to call her husband to ask him what she should do, and attempted to make a call on her cell phone.
West told her that she could not use a cell phone during a traffic stop, and then asked her twice to put the phone down. When she failed to comply, court documents say, West informed Appleby that she was under arrest.
Even then, the documents say, Appleby refused to get out of her car, and compounded the situation by reaching for her purse while telling the officer she did not have a gun. West pulled her out of the car, and handcuffed her face down on the ground, allegedly injuring her.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash granted West qualified immunity on Appleby's allegations of false arrest and excessive force.
"A reasonable officer could have concluded that the plaintiff was obstructing justice when she refused to sign the citation because she did not have a red pen and when she failed to get out of her car as directed during the traffic stop," Thrash said.
Therefore, West reasonably believed he had probable cause to arrest Appleby.
In addition, "the defendant's evidence shows that the plaintiff was behaving erratically by demanding a red pen to sign the ticket, being argumentative by refusing to sign and attempting to make a phone call, and by referencing a weapon and attempting to access her purse. A reasonable officer could have concluded that the defendant's application of force was necessary to secure the plaintiff and ensure the defendant's safety," Thrash said.