Monday, September 25, 2023
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Video Clears Officer of Excessive Force Claim

(CN) - The video of a Nebraska police officer's arrest of a woman on a scooter "clearly contradicted" the woman's claim that he grabbed her by the breast and threw her against his patrol car, the 8th Circuit ruled.

Deputies stopped Susan Wallingford and her boyfriend, Greg Hajek, for riding their Pagsta scooters without proper helmets and for revving their engines at a stop sign outside the Colfax County Courthouse in Schulyer, Neb.

When Wallingford refused to sign the citation, Deputy Jeff Olson informed her that if she didn't sign it, she could go to jail.

Wallingford claimed that Olson grabbed her by the breast and threw her face-down on the patrol car. She allegedly "felt a burning sensation in her chest and immediately and instinctively turned around to slap" Olson.

She said Olson reacted by throwing her onto the street, fracturing her foot.

According to Olson, however, he simply placed Wallingford against the hood of the patrol car "to gain control of her." Her momentum from slapping him caused her to fall, he said, after which Olson was finally able to handcuff her.

Wallingford and Hajek sued the sheriff's department and Olson, but only their excessive force claims survived summary judgment.

On appeal, a three-judge panel in St. Louis ruled that Olson is entitled to qualified immunity based on the video evidence.

"Although we view the facts and any reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Wallingford, we cannot ignore incontrovertible evidence which clearly contradicts Wallingford's allegations," Judge William Riley wrote.

"Despite Wallingford's claims of excessive force, the videotape manifestly shows Deputy Olson did not (1) grab Wallingford by the breast, (2) 'throw' her against a police vehicle, or (3) throw her on the street."

The court granted Olson qualified immunity on the excessive force claim, based on the video evidence.

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