10th Circuit Sides With Denver in Case of Courtroom Head Slam

(Amanda Pampuro/CNS)

DENVER (CN) – The 10th Circuit upheld the dismissal Monday of a lawsuit stemming from claims a Denver sheriff’s officer beat a handcuffed man in a courtroom.

After authorities arrested Anthony Waller in September 2012 without a warrant, he questioned the legality of his arrest before a county judge at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center. Then-sheriff’s officer Brady Lovingier responded by slamming Waller’s head into a metal wall beam, causing a deep head laceration and left orbital blowout fracture.

A video of the incident found its way to YouTube, and the department suspended Lovingier for 30 days after a year-long investigation.

Waller sued the city and county of Denver in 2014, and a jury found Lovingier liable three years later for using excessive force, awarding Waller $50,000. A judge awarded Waller another $176,226 to cover attorney’s fees.

But Waller lacked the evidence to prove Lovingier’s actions were sanctioned by Denver or part of a widespread practice in the sheriff’s department, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit found Monday.

“Deputy Lovingier’s use of force was improper not because of the amount of force he used, but because no force was warranted in the first place,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Monroe McKay, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote in his 27-page opinion.

“Even an untrained law enforcement officer should have been well aware that any use of force in this situation – where a restrained detainee was simply addressing a judge at a hearing in a polite, calm voice – was inappropriate,” McKay explained, concluding further training would not have made a difference.

The appeals court, as well as a magistrate judge and the trial court, found Waller failed to state “a plausible claim of municipal liability.”

Waller also claimed that the department favored nepotism over qualifications and that Brady Lovingier was only hired because he is the son of Bill Lovingier, who ran the Denver Sheriff’s Department from 2006 to 2010. The panel was not convinced.

“Although Mr. Waller has thus alleged one similar prior incident, we have found no cases suggesting that a single prior incident can constitute a ‘pattern’ of conduct giving rise to an inference of deliberate indifference,” McKay wrote. “To the contrary, we have expressly held that ‘[o]ne prior incident, even if it was a constitutional violation sufficiently similar does not describe a pattern of violations.’”

Waller is represented by attorney Kenneth Padilla of the Denver firm Padilla & Padilla. Assistant city attorney David Cooperstein represented Denver.

“The city is indeed pleased with this decision. It affirms that the plaintiff failed to state a valid claim against the city and that Mr. Lovingier’s actions were contrary to the Denver Sheriff Department’s policies and values,” said city spokesperson Ryan S. Luby.

Lovingier left the department in April 2016.

U.S. Circuit Judges Jerome Holmes and Nancy Moritz rounded out the panel. President George W. Bush appointed Holmes, and President Barack Obama appointed Moritz.

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