Force Science News #229:
Do your policies cover using force against injured persons?
FORCE SCIENCE RESEARCH NOTE
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In this issue:
I. Do your policies cover using force against injured persons?
A recent lower-court decision in Tennessee may be a bellwether signaling a need to tweak law enforcement use-of-force policies.
At issue is whether department policies and the training to support them should cover use of force against injured persons.
The unpublished ruling last month [4/11/13] from the U.S. District Court in Nashville is important, says Michael Brave, an attorney who closely monitors force-related civil and criminal cases, "because I know of no documented policy or training currently in place that offers guidance to officers on this subject."
The question arose after a hit-and-run driver in Dickson, TN, left a motorcyclist sitting in pain in a roadway with a fractured hand, leg, and ankle, the latter manifested by a bone sticking through the skin. When a rookie Dickson officer arrived, an EMT was kneeling behind the injured party and cradling his head to prevent movement that might result in spinal injury. In one hand, the biker was clutching a closed pocketknife that had fallen to the pavement during the crash.
Some details are disputed, but essentially a fire lieutenant apparently told the officer, "We need to get the knife from him." After the biker ignored repeated commands to put the knife down or surrender it, the officer delivered a forearm strike to the biker's face with such force that it knocked the biker and the EMT to the ground, dislodged one of the biker's teeth, and caused his face to bruise and swell. The knife clattered to the pavement and was safely recovered.
Everyone agreed that the injured motorcyclist "never threatened" the EMT, "was not combative or violent," and was "never told why he could not keep the pocketknife." The EMT, the only first responder in physical contact with him, testified that he "wasn't too terribly concerned" about the knife, considering that the severely injured subject "wasn't gonna get up and run off."
The biker sued the city of Dickson and the officer individually, claiming violation of his federal civil rights, along with other force-related abuses. The defendants moved for summary judgment, based on qualified immunity for the officer and lack of municipal liability for the city.
In analyzing the case, Senior Judge John Nixon pointed out that "police officers have the responsibility and authority to secure accident scenes" and thus will foreseeably "interact with injured suspects." In that context, "without proper training," in the court's opinion, they "will use excessive force."
The officer testified that he "received no instruction on mitigating use of force when dealing with injured persons, whether at the police academy or the department." The agency had no policy or general-order guidelines on this matter, nor did it "train its officers on how to approach, question, or deal with injured subjects," including those being held in "c-spine" (a protective manner) by EMS responders, Nixon wrote.
Consequently, the court denied summary judgment for the city on the grounds that the PD's "existing training and policies were inadequate." Nixon found "sufficient evidence that the failure to train" the officer on the use of force on injured parties "was closely related to or actually caused the constitutional violations complained of" and raised the possibility that the agency was "deliberately indifferent to its failure to train."
Summary judgment was denied the officer as well, on claims that his conduct was "outrageous and...constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress."
At the time of the officer's forearm strike, the motorcyclist was an "incapacitated" accident victim, "never the suspect of a crime," the court said. He was "resistant" to the officer's commands but not violent and "never made any verbal threats, never attempted to open the pocketknife, and never tried to hurt anyone with it." Posing "no immediate threat," he had "a right to be free from gratuitous and excessive force."
"[A] reasonable jury could find it beyond the bounds of decency" for the officer--himself a former EMT--to deliver the face strike "when the victim had obvious injuries that could be worsened by physical contact," Nixon wrote. As the plaintiff maintained, the officer "could have locked [the motorcyclist's] arm to retrieve the pocketknife, rather than hitting him in a 'no strike zone.' "
Thus, the case moves forward, with the city and the officer himself at risk--and with potential implications for other agencies as well. Trial is set for next August.
Meanwhile, Brave offers these observations for agencies regarding Nixon's decision:
TAKE AWAY: Consider providing officer guidance (policy and training) on mitigating use of force when dealing with injured subjects receiving medical attention, especially when the subject is not reasonably perceived as an immediate threat. Include how to approach, question, and deal with injured subjects, including those being held in "c-spine."
BASIC THOUGHTS ON POLICY ADDITION: In using force on injured subjects receiving medical attention, officers shall reasonably consider force-mitigating circumstances related to the person's known injuries and medical care. Such mitigating considerations may include immediate threat risks from the subject, approaching, questioning, interacting with, and applying force to the injured subject.
Judge Nixon's decision in Harrison v. City of Dickson can be accessed in full free of charge by clicking here.
[Michael Brave is president of LAAW International, LLC, and serves as national/international litigation counsel to TASER International, Inc. He can be contacted at: Brave@laaw.com]
II. New book, seminar ask: 'Am I that man?'
Two veteran law enforcement trainers have launched what they hope will become an international mentoring movement for men who, they claim, are "facing more challenges and mixed messages" today than at any other time in history.
At the core of the project is a thought-provoking new book, Am I that Man?, a collaborative effort by Brian Willis, a graduate of the Force Science certification course and president of Winning Mind Training, and Ron Scheidt, lead instructor of natural response control tactics with the Community Corrections Institute and retired senior U.S. probation officer in Nebraska.
Their book, subtitled "How heroes, role models, and mentors can shape your life," presents 31 highly personal accounts written by a wide variety of men, describing how influential individuals guided them through critical times to become the people they are today and enumerating the positive qualities they hope that they themselves are now passing along to others. More than half the contributors are or have been law enforcement professionals.
The book is designed to stimulate reflection on where you are in life, how you got there, and what you can do to build strong relationships to help others. Scheidt told Force Science News that he and Willis hope that readers will be spurred to action in three ways:
1. To honor the past. "So many people have been inspirations in our lives, yet we often lose track of them over time and never thank them for their help. We hope readers will reach out to important people from their past, acknowledge their influence, and reconnect."
2. To acknowledge the present. "We need to be very grateful for what we have and to realize that we haven't gotten there strictly on our own."
3. To invest in the future. "This is perhaps most important. Who are we investing in today with our time, our energy, and our guidance? The way to honor your own mentors is to do for someone else what has been done for you."
Beginning in June, the messages of the book will be offered in a half-day seminar format, with Willis, Scheidt, and two former athletes who are now motivational speakers joining in the presentation. The program will be conducted June 13 in Omaha and the next day in Lincoln, NE. Other appearances will be announced later.
"The book and the seminar are about the conscious decisions you make every day as you move forward with your personal growth and development," Willis says. "They're about how you respond to failure, whether you pursue your dreams, and how you choose to treat other people.
"Am I that Man is really a philosophy, a way of living for men who want to make a greater impact in the world by being a better son, brother, husband, father, friend, mentor, role model, and leader."
Although the book and seminar are aimed at men, who Scheidt says face unique pressures today, women are by no means excluded. Indeed, he says, women have driven most of the book's sales so far. "They give it as a gift to the males in their lives," he says, thereby perhaps delivering a message of their own in the process.
For more information, visit www.amithatman.com or contact Brian Willis at: Brian@amithatman.com or Ron Scheidt at:Ron@amithatman.com.
III. From our inbox...
Readers continue to chime in on issues of shooting at moving vehicles, social media, and looming from previous editions of Force Science News:
A veritable arsenal against moving vehicles
Before spikes, I was involved in at least 10 events where a vehicle was stopped by using a weapon. I've used shotguns, pistols, carbines, and machine guns. It does take a minute or two for the air to go out of a shot tire and yes, suspects can and will continue to drive, at a slower speed, until they loose control. Spikes are safest, but I do teach the best methods for shooting a tire if necessary.
Capt. David "Kelly" Davis
Cmdr., Criminal Investigation Div.
Pecos (TX) PD
I have used personal "looming" consistently during my nearly 40-year career. It works as intimidation, serves to quiet a suspect who is trying to work himself up with loud and boisterous behavior, breaks the concentration of suspects who are deciding between fight and flight, and keeps me close enough to prevent a suspect from drawing or obtaining weapons.
Rangemaster Kurt Hyllested
Signal Hill (CA) PD
Agencies should use social media to spread truth
Regarding posts on social media after a shooting: The administration has to make the public aware of the accurate version of events, via the regular media and possibly through social media as well. This is very important in the court of public perception and could affect officers on the street if inaccurate versions go unanswered. These issues cannot be underestimated and the departments of officers involved should show clear and unwavering support where warranted, yet many don't.
Officer Robert Nagy
Cleveland (OH) Division of Police
IV. In support of napping
We've reported in the past on the suggestion by health experts that LEOs be allowed to take nap breaks while on duty, in the interest of their own and the public's safety. For an interesting infographic on the benefits of napping, check out http://visual.ly/napping.
There you'll find a cornucopia of intriguing facts about naps, including:
• An hour's nap improves alertness for up to 10 hours
• Studies have linked napping to a 9% improvement in mental abilities and an 11% increase in alertness
• Even short mini-naps (5 to 20 mins.) can increase motor performance
• Surprisingly, napping has been linked to a 12% increased ability to stay asleep during the night.
Enjoy! We're out Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.