(CN) – Police officers may be liable for using their batons to hit children who stepped into the street during a parade to hug marching family members, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Roger Rudder, Rosena Rudder, Noverlene Goss, and two juveniles say they suffered injuries from their interaction with police at the 2008 Caribbean Carnival Parade in Washington, D.C. While watching the festivities, the group allegedly spotted family members in the parade march. But when they stepped into the street for a hug, Officer William Chatman allegedly told them to return to the sidewalk.
Though the group tried to comply, Chatman then shoved Rosena Rudder and Officer Shannon Williams used her baton on the two children, ages 5 and 15, according to the lawsuit.
“Officers Williams and Chatman … beat plaintiffs with their batons and forced plaintiffs to the ground,” the complaint said. After police arrested and released the adult plaintiffs, the family allegedly went to the hospital.
The two families filed suit for excessive force in 2009, but a federal judge dismissed the case with prejudice.
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit revived some of the claims last week after finding that “the plaintiffs allege facts sufficient to support their claim that Officers Chatman and Williams acted with a degree of force unjustified by the circumstances.”
“The defendants wisely concede this point with respect to the allegations against Officer Williams,” Judge Douglas Ginsberg wrote for a three-judge panel.
In addition to claiming that Williams struck two children without provocation, “the complaint also alleges Officer Williams beat plaintiff Goss with her baton after Ms. Goss called out to the officer in response to Officer Williams’ use of force against the child,” the Jan. 17 decision states. “A person who responds verbally to a police officer assaulting a child hardly invites violence against herself.”
Chatman may have also violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights, the court found.
“Unlike pushing an arrestee against a wall and pulling his arm behind his back, beating a suspect to the ground with a baton exceeds in violence anything ‘we would expect in the course of a routine arrest,'” Ginsberg wrote, citing precedent.
Though the plaintiffs had “inexplicably” conceded to the trial court that all of their common-law claims were time-barred, they claimed belatedly that the concession applied only to the adults’ claims.
The appellate judges agreed that the plaintiffs should get to file an amended complaint with the juveniles’ common-law claims since such allegations are not time-barred until the children turn 18.
“The deficiency in this case lies not in the complaint but in the plaintiffs’ erroneous concession, which requires no cure beyond simply filing the complaint anew,” Ginsberg wrote. “The defendants suggest no reason to deny the juvenile plaintiffs the opportunity to pursue their common law claims in a new case, and we see none.”