Do Your Policies Cover Using Force Against Injured Persons?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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The unpublished ruling last month [4/11/13] from the U.S. District Court in Nashville is important, says Michael Brave, an attorney who closely monitors force-related civil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]

Leave a Reply

GDPR

  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.

Analytics

We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: [email protected]
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.