CINCINNATI (CN) – A police officer who yanked a suspected hit-and-run driver out of his car by the collar is entitled to immunity from excessive-force claims, the 6th Circuit ruled, overturning a District Court’s order to the contrary.
The lawsuit stems from a 2008 incident in which Mitch Hayden caused a car accident in Pontiac, Mich., and then fled the scene. Officer Dwight Green eventually caught up with Hayden at a local hospital and then used his police cruiser to block the exit.
At that point, in-car video from the police cruiser showed that “Hayden’s vehicle continued moving forward and then went partially up onto the curb as if to go around the left side of the cruiser,” the 6th Circuit summarized. “In response, Green … exited his vehicle, strode over to [Hayden’s vehicle], opened Hayden’s door, grabbed Hayden’s clothing near the top of his chest, yanked once without effect, and finally pulled Hayden from his seat to the pavement in one fluid motion.”
When Hayden’s 1991 Plymouth Acclaim started rolling away, Green ran after the car and slammed it into park. Hayden then appeared as though he would try to flee on foot, so Green forced him to the ground. Once Green had Hayden under control, he chose not to arrest him and instead drove him home.
After Hayden sued Green, claiming the officer used excessive force and injured his back and shoulder, a federal judge refused to dismiss the complaint on the basis of qualified immunity.
A three-judge appellate panel said immunity does, in fact, apply.
“A motorist who leaves the scene of an accident, and then disregards a rather obvious police indication to stop his vehicle, should not be completely surprised when he is forcibly removed from it,” Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote for the court.
Green deserves immunity based since he used minimum force and did not commit any constitutional violations.
“The bad choices in this encounter were not Officer Green’s,” Kethledge wrote. “His actions were reasonable and he did not violate Hayden’s constitutional rights.”