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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Mother of man police shot 59 times challenges officer immunity in federal appeals court

A lower court dismissed Monteria Robinson's excessive force claims after finding the officers were operating under a federal task force. She says the cops were still abiding by state law.

ATLANTA (CN) — The mother of a 26-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by police officers nearly eight years ago asked a federal appeals court Friday to reverse the dismissal of her civil rights suit.

Monteria Robinson's excessive force claims were dismissed by a lower court because the officers were acting as part of a federal task force law with the U.S. Marshal Service.

On appeal, she argued that should be able to sue because the officers on the task force were acting under state law and abiding by state agencies' policies and procedures.

Her attorney, Mario Williams, argued before the 11th Circuit panel on Friday that all members of U.S. Marshal Service enforcement operations are required to comply with state agency guidelines, including those concerning the use of firearms and deadly force.

If the officers were not employed by local law enforcement agencies, which empower them with Georgia general arrest powers, they wouldn't have had the authority to execute the arrest warrant against Jamarion Robinson to begin with, Williams argued.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch noted differences between this case and the Supreme Court Bivens case, which found that an implied cause of action existed for an people whose Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure had been violated by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Unlike in Bivens where federal narcotic officers executed a warrantless arrest, the task force officers in this case were acting in execution of valid arrest warrants. They also engaged in a gunfight with Jamarion Robinson who was armed, where as the suspect in Bivens was unarmed.

"This is a very hard hill for you to climb up," said Branch, a Trump appointee. "How is having an arrest warrant for him not meaningful?"

Williams said the fact that the arrestee was armed does not mean the officers did not engage in excessive use of force.

The Obama-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor asked whether a Bivens remedy applies against officers working as fugitive task force agents of the Marshal Service. The Supreme Court's recent decision in Egbert held that any claim that isn't highly similar to the facts in Bivens provides a "new context" in which a damages claim can't proceed if there is any reason to think Congress might be better equipped to create a damages remedy.

Assistant U.S. attorney Gabriel Mendel, representing task force officers Eric Heinze and Daniel Doyle, argued the circumstances of this case present a new context requiring consideration of special factors.

Mendel defended the lower court's finding that alternative remedial structures exist, including an administrative scheme under the Federal Tort Claims Act that permits plaintiffs to sue those acting on behalf of the United States. Monteria Robinson had already done so, and the 11th Circuit previously affirmed the judge's dismissal of those claims on summary judgment.

U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Hull, a Clinton appointee, expressed concern that Monteria Robinson may be barred from raising her claims because she did not raise the question, during her first appeal, of whether the court correctly held the defendants were acting as federal officers.

That was in 2022, when she appealed a judge's previous dismissal of the case finding that the officers' "use of force was objectively reasonable” and granting them qualified immunity.

An 11th Circuit panel found that evidence from a bystander's video created a "genuine dispute of material fact" and remanded the case for further proceedings on claims that officers Heinze and Doyle used excessive force after a flashbang exploded.

Because officers at the time were not required to wear body cameras, the cell phone video became crucial evidence in the case because it captured the sound of three automatic gun bursts after a flashbang was deployed, rendering Jamarion Robinson unconscious. The 11th Circuit concluded that this evidence contradicted testimony given from officer Heinze, claiming he ceased fire after the flashbang grenade detonated.

The arrest warrant against Jamarion Robinson was issued by the Atlanta Police Department in August 2016, after he allegedly pointed a gun and fired at officers who confronted him at a friend’s apartment complex after receiving concerns from his mother over her son’s whereabouts and mental state. His mother says she had informed police a month earlier that her son had poured gasoline on part of the floors in her home, and that he was hospitalized for paranoid schizophrenia but had been unmedicated since his release at the beginning of the year.

When the task force of 16 officers from local law enforcement agencies forcibly entered Jamarion Robinson’s girlfriend’s apartment after receiving information that he was inside, he appeared at the top of the stairs and fired at least two rounds toward the officers.

None of the officers were injured, but according to a medical examiner’s report, Jamarion Robinson was shot 59 times. He sustained 75 bullet wounds that either entered or exited his body.

The three-judge circuit panel did not signal when they intend to issue a ruling.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights

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