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Idaho Cops Face Excessive Force Claim

BOISE (CN) - A driver refused to hand over his license during a traffic stop, or to get out of his car, but police must face an excessive force claim for calling it a "code 3" - life and death emergency - a federal judge ruled.

Lee Arthur Rice II sued six police officers for his Dec. 26, 2011 arrest.

Rice was traveling with his family on I-84 when Idaho State Trooper Janet Murakami pulled him over for failing to signal a lane change. Murakami asked to see his driver's license, and Rice showed it to her through his window. When he refused to hand it over, Murakami sent a Code 3 call for assistance.

"A Code 3 response is to be reserved for life and death emergency calls," the complaint states.

Seventeen officers responded. Rice was pulled out of his car, taken to the ground and arrested for obstruction. He claims he was "repeatedly struck" and had his arms and shoulders "wrenched," though he was not resisting arrest.

Rice sued Murakami and five other officers in 2013, including Boise City police Officers Mark Abercrombie and Jeffrey Hill, and Meridian police Officer Tony Ford, alleging unlawful search and seizure, false arrest, denial of timely assistance of defense counsel and excessive force.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Dec. 18 granted dismissal on all but the excessive force claim, finding that video evidence does not "conclusively refute Rice's account," and citing the 9th Circuit ruling in LaLonde v. County of Riverside (2000).

Winmill found that officers responding to a Code 3 would understandably come in heavy, but that LaLonde v. County of Riverside dictates that the defendants' motion for summary judgment be denied and the case submitted to a jury.

As for Murakami, Winmill said she would have a hard time explaining why she requested Code 3 assistance.

"The responding officers ... would assume from the Code 3 alarm that Rice posed a dangerous threat to a fellow officer and needed to be taken down quickly and aggressively," Winmill said in a 21-page order. "The officers' assumption would be no surprise to Officer Murakami - she knew what a Code 3 alarm meant. These circumstances at least create an issue of fact over whether Officer Murakami should have known that her Code 3 would result in excessive force being used against Rice."

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