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Pre-Trial Detention Force Case Brought to D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CN) - The Supreme Court has agreed to look at a case where a jury sided with the jail officers whom a Wisconsin man accused of excessive force.

Michael Kingsley brought the pro se lawsuit in December 2010, a few months after he was booked into the Monroe County Jail in Sparta, Wis., to await a trial on criminal charges.

The complaint involves his treatment in May over a piece of paper that was covering a light fixture in his cell.

Kingsley said he denied having put the paper up and refused to remove it, and that several officers treated him roughly when he ignored their orders to get up from his bunk.

After the officers allegedly handcuffed Kingsley, pulled him to his feet and carried him to another cell, they placed face-down on the bed, according to the complaint.

Kinglsey said the officers were having trouble removing the handcuffs, and that he became upset as Sgt. Stan Hendrickson's knee dug into Kingsley's back.

The officers said Kingsley was resisting and trying to stand up. They deny Kingsley's claim that one of them slammed Kingsley's head against the concrete bunk after he complained about the knee in his back.

Deputy Fritz Degner used a Taser on Kingsley for five seconds and then cleared the cell. After they returned 15 minutes later to remove the handcuffs, Kingsley declined the care of a nurse.

Only the detainee's excessive-force claims against Hendrickson and Degner went to trial, and Kingsley appealed to the 7th Circuit after a federal jury ruled against him.

In affirming for the officers last year, a divided three-judge panel for the Chicago-based federal appeals court rejected Kingsley's claim that the jury received incorrect and confusing instructions.

Both parties initially objected to the proposed jury instruction on excessive force, according to the ruling, and the final version included the word "reckless" throughout as a consideration of whether the officers did what the plaintiff alleged.

Kingsley's appeal hinged on whether the jurors improperly looked at the intent of the officers, and the harm he suffered, conflating the broader standard under the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment for a pretrial detainee with the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment of convicted prisoners.

But the 7th Circuit ruling emphasizes that "the existence of intent - at least recklessness - is a requirement in Fourteenth Amendment excessive force cases." The court also found that Kingsley forfeited his challenge as to harm by not directly challenging it at trial.

Judge David Hamilton wrote in dissent that that the inclusion of the word "reckless" in jury instruction was harmful because excessive force used on a pretrial detainee is punishment regardless of intention.

"Put another way, how and why would it be constitutional for an officer to use force against a pretrial detainee that was 'unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances of the time,' since this instruction invites that very possibility?" Hamilton asked. "How and why would objectively unreasonable force be deemed anything other than 'punishment' that would be imposed on the detainee without due process of law?"

Kingsley is represented by Jeffrey Green of Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, D.C. The officers are represented by Andrew Jones of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC of Milwaukee.

Per its custom the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in agreeing Friday to take up Kingsley's case. Kingsley can proceed in forma pauperis, according to the court's order.

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