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Ohio Officer Must Face Excessive Force Claim

(CN) - The 6th Circuit refused to clear an Ohio police officer accused of tackling a mentally unstable woman from behind, handcuffing her and pushing her face into the ground each time she tried to speak.

The Cincinnati-based court upheld a lower court's refusal to grant summary judgment to Officer Scott Celender, saying a reasonable juror could find that he used excessive force in pushing 19-year-old Amanda Morrison's face into the ground.

In October 2002, Morrison's sister called 911 to report that Morrison had a knife and was threatening suicide.

When Morrison found out that the responding officers were going to take her to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, she ran toward the house, according to one Hamilton County sheriff's deputy.

Morrison claimed that she had simply walked away, thinking the police were finished talking to her.

Celender then tackled her from behind and handcuffed her. Morrison said Celender pushed her face into the ground four or five times, whenever she tried to speak. She was allegedly screaming that her ankle was broken.

On-site paramedics treated her for a sprained ankle, and she was taken to the hospital and released later that day.

Morrison and her parents sued Green Township, its police department, and several county and police officials in Ohio federal court for alleged Fourth Amendment violations.

A federal judge granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims but Morrison's excessive-force claim. On appeal, Celender argued that the claim should be dismissed based on qualified immunity, which shields government officials from liability unless a plaintiff can prove they violated a clearly established right.

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling, saying it wasn't clear that Celender's safety had been threatened.

"And in the absence of a threat to officer safety, Officer Celender cannot argue that he acted reasonably under the Fourth Amendment when he pushed Amanda's face into the ground while she was incapacitated because 'use of force after a suspect has been incapacitated or neutralized is excessive as a matter of law,'" Judge Keith wrote, citing 9th Circuit precedent.

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