RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The Fourth Circuit ruled Friday in favor of a South Carolina man who claimed he was excessively shocked with a stun gun for refusing to hold still for a mug shot, finding it is unclear whether the force was applied in a good faith effort to get his photo.
A three-judge panel remanded the case to the district court to determine whether a guard used excessive force against Altony Brooks to punish him, or if the stun gun was properly deployed in an attempt to take his photo in compliance with jail policy.
“The critical Eighth Amendment question in this case is one of motive: whether the corrections officer shocked Brooks three times ‘in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline,’ or ‘maliciously’ and ‘for the very purpose of causing harm,’” U.S. Circuit Judge Pamela Harris wrote for the panel.
Brooks, who filed his complaint pro se, had been sent to the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, in 2013 for an overnight stay. The jail is located near a court where he was due to appear the next morning.
Officers reported Brooks was “disrespectful” and “uncooperative” upon arrival, particularly during their attempt to secure a photo of him for the jail’s database.
Brooks even admitted he “was refusing to obey the . . . officers’ commands that he allow them to take his picture,” according to court records, which also say that he threatened some officers and moved his head repeatedly to prevent a clear picture from being taken.
Soundless security footage shows the officers spent roughly seven and a half minutes trying to get Brooks to let them take his picture before a female officer deployed a stun gun, which hit Brooks in the leg and knocked him to the ground.
The officer stunned him again when he was on the floor, and then once more after he was pulled to his feet, court records show.
While the mug shot was eventually taken, Brooks argued that the incident amounted to a clear use of excessive force in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. He claims he has experienced persistent knee pain ever since and that an MRI two years later showed a kneecap irregularity and a possible torn meniscus.
But the Fourth Circuit panel vacated the district court’s 2017 ruling granting summary judgment to the jail officers and remanded the case for further proceedings.
“Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Brooks, as we must, we think a reasonable jury could find that the officer used multiple shocks not to induce Brooks’s cooperation, but to punish him for his intransigence through the ‘wanton infliction of pain,’” Judge Harris wrote.
U.S. Circuit Judges Barbara Keenan and James Wynn Jr. joined Harris on the panel.
The defendant officers are represented by attorney Kevin DeAntonio with Senn Legal. Brooks was represented on appeal by University of Georgia law student C. Daniel Lockaby.