Parking Lot Tussle May Leave Utah Cop Liable

     (CN) – The 10th Circuit revived claims against a Utah police officer who threw a man to the ground, ultimately causing “severe traumatic brain injury,” in a traffic stop.
     A camera affixed to the squad car of Herber City officer Jason Bateman captured most of his 2005 stop of David Becker in a market parking lot.
     Though Bateman pulled Becker over for a cracked windshield, he allegedly suspected Becker had been drinking and submitted him to a battery of field sobriety tests.
     Bateman said he was about to make an arrest when Becker allegedly resisted, so he threw the driver to the ground.
     Becker filed suit in 2007, claiming that the tussle left him with a severe traumatic brain injury. He claimed excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and loss of consortium on behalf of his wife.
     A federal judge in Salt Lake City granted the city and Bateman summary judgment, but the 10th Circuit partly reversed on Feb. 27.
     “We decline to consider whether the district court erred in concluding no constitutional violation occurred and instead opt to address whether the rights at issue were clearly established at the time of the alleged violation,” Judge Michael Murphy wrote for a three-member panel.
     Citing the dash-cam footage, Murphy said “reasonable jurors could conclude Becker was not resisting arrest at the time he was taken to the ground by Officer Bateman.”
     “Reasonable jurors could infer Becker’s statement of ‘No’ was not a verbal indication of intent to resist arrest but a simple plea not to be arrested, and that Becker’s withdrawing of his hand after Officer Bateman attempted to place it in a wrist lock was simply reflexive,” Murphy wrote.
     “Importantly, after withdrawing his wrist and moments before being taken to the ground, the dash cam video shows Becker placing both hands on the trunk of his vehicle and stating, ‘I am not resisting,'” he added. “Reasonable jurors could thus find Becker had ceased any resistance prior to the application of force giving rise to his claims. This finding would support the conclusion Officer Bateman applied excessive force.”
     The 12-page ruling says there are disputed issues of material fact as to whether Bateman used excessive force in violation of Becker’s Fourth Amendment rights.
     Heber City, pop. 11,362 in 2010, is located 50 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, near resort destination Park City.
     “On remand, the district court must determine whether Becker can withstand summary judgment as to the second element of his municipal liability claim,” according to the ruling. “Similarly, the district court must determine whether Mrs. Becker can maintain a cause of action for loss of consortium against the City in light of this court’s ruling that a reasonable jury could conclude Becker’s constitutional rights were violated.”

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