Eleventh Circuit Strips Immunity From Deputy Who Saved A War Vet From Self-Harm By Breaking His Neck
from the only-response-to-possible-harm-is-more-harm,-apparently dept
One of the many symptoms of the many, deep-rooted, law enforcement sicknesses is how often officers decide to “help” people by harming them. That’s why some cities have chosen to redirect mental health issues to mental health professionals, rather than to armed officers who view anything they can’t immediately address with yelling and pointing of weapons as a threat that must be violently subdued.
Far too often, officers are summoned to help someone experiencing severe distress. And, far too often, officers do things like kill people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or severely injure people who are threatening to injure themselves.
And, far too often, they’re able to walk away from the ensuing lawsuits because their creativity in “resolving” these issues falls outside of court precedent and clearly established law.
This isn’t one of those cases, fortunately. The Supreme Court may have conjured qualified immunity into existence and spent the following decades making it easier for law enforcement officers to evade the consequences of their actions, but the doctrine still somehow remains less than a forgone conclusion.
That’s the case here in a lawsuit that has made its way to Eleventh Circuit Appeals Court. This court says it’s unlawful to injure a compliant person for absolutely no fucking reason, especially when the stated intent of the interaction was to prevent someone from becoming more injured.
Iraq war veteran Kirby Ingram was having a terrible day. Thanks to the “intervention” of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, it soon became much, much worse. From the decision [PDF]:
Ingram is an Iraq War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. In October 2017, while suffering from a mental-health crisis, Ingram cut his wrist with a knife at his home. His girlfriend called the Veterans Affairs suicide hotline, which contacted law enforcement. Deputy Louis Kubik and another deputy from Madison County, Alabama, were dispatched to assist Ingram.
When the deputies arrived, Ingram was calm. The deputies searched him multiple times. They confiscated the knife with which Ingram had cut himself. After the search, the deputies knew that he was unarmed.
The deputies (and Ingram’s mother) tried to persuade him to let the deputies take him to the Department of Veteran Affairs. He refused. He asked if he was under arrest. The deputies assured him he wasn’t. Ingram again stated he would cooperate if they did wish to arrest him. They again stated they weren’t going to arrest him.
So, being free to go, Ingram went. He exited through the back door of the house and “ran into a cotton field.” The deputies pursued him. Eventually, Ingram stopped and the deputies again approached him. They said if he would go back to his house and affirmatively refuse medical treatment, they would leave. As the deputies and Ingram walked back to the house, Ingram again affirmed he would cooperate if the deputies decided to arrest him. And, again, the deputies assured Ingram they weren’t going to arrest him.
Then this happened:
When they reached the yard, “Ingram held his hands over his head and told [medical] personnel . . . that he was refusing medical treatment.” The deputies knew that Ingram was unarmed and posed no threat to them. “Without warning, Kubik then grabbed Ingram under his armpits, picked Ingram up, and slammed Ingram to the ground head first, causing Ingram to suffer a serious neck injury.” Ingram alleges that Kubik’s decision to body slam “Ingram was motivated by hostility toward Ingram due to Ingram’s mental illness.” Ingram was taken to the hospital. “A surgeon removed Ingram’s C-2 vertebra and replaced it with a metal rod. The surgeon also fused Ingram’s C-3 and C-4 vertebrae.”
The lower court didn’t exactly say this brutality was fine. It simply said it didn’t need to look too closely at the brutality because no similar brutality allegations were currently on file in the circuit.
After [Sheriff] Dorning, Kubik, and Turner moved to dismiss the claims against them, the district court granted their motions. The district court held that there was no unlawful seizure because Kubik had probable cause to seize Ingram. On the excessive-force claim, the district court held that Kubik was entitled to qualified immunity because Ingram “ha[d] not shown that his constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the seizure,” so there was “no need to decide if his constitutional right was violated.”
That’s the way the nation’s top court has set up qualified immunity examinations. So, that’s the way the lower court handled it. Fortunately, the Appeals Court is willing to actually examine the claims, rather than just defer to the hands-off approach encouraged by the Supreme Court.
While the court finds Deputy Kubik had probable cause to seize Ingram due to there being enough probable cause to support allegations that Ingram might continue injuring himself, this did not justify the injuries Kubik caused by deploying excessive force while carrying out this seizure.
Kubik argues that body slamming Ingram was justified because it “had the immediate effect of immobilizing him using nonlethal force and preventing any further threat from [Ingram], either to himself or to the officers.” Kubik also asserts that he “took advantage of an opportunity to physically detain [Ingram]—a former soldier experiencing a mental health crisis who had tried to commit suicide—after he had stopped running and the officers had caught up to him.” And Kubik maintains that he did not violate Ingram’s rights because of Ingram’s “aberrant and erratic conduct.” We disagree.
The deputies had searched Ingram and confiscated the knife with which he had cut himself, so they knew he was unarmed. Before Kubik body slammed him, Ingram had his hands over his head. And there was no sign that he sought to flee when he was seized. Accepting these allegations as true, Ingram “was not actively resisting arrest, and there is no [allegation] that he struggled with the police” at the time of the seizure. Although Kubik could lawfully seize Ingram, the “extent of the injury [he] inflicted” was significant enough to confirm the already tenuous nature of the relationship between the “need for application of force” and the “amount of force used.”
The court then goes on to cite several analogous cases the lower court apparently couldn’t Google when it performed its half-ass analysis of Deputy Kubik’s assault on an unresistant person whose only crime was attempting to harm themselves. After several paragraphs of quotes from applicable cases, the Appeals Court arrives at this conclusion.
Our precedents clearly established that Kubik could not use grossly disproportionate, gratuitous, and seriously injurious force against a non-resisting, compliant, and docile subject like Ingram. Ingram was unarmed. He posed no threat to Kubik. He had his hands over his head. And he reiterated that he would cooperate with any arrest. When Kubik body slammed Ingram headfirst without warning and caused a severe neck injury, that force was “utterly disproportionate to the level of force reasonably necessary” in that circumstance.
Not only is Kubik going to have to continue being sued, but his supervisor, (now former) Sheriff Blake Dorning has been stripped of immunity as well. Dorning may not have been present during this violation of rights, but Ingram submitted plenty of evidence showing the sheriff has repeatedly refused to investigate, much less punish, officers accused of excessive force or other misconduct. Since the record shows Dorning showed no interest in reining in excessive force deployment, this issue will also go in front of a jury. (And there’s plenty of evidence showing Dorning was a terrible sheriff that anyone with a search bar can easily access.)
Given what’s been shown so far in this case, it would make sense to settle. This would save the Sheriff from having to possibly admit in court he’s incapable or unwilling to control his officers. And it would allow the county and its sheriff’s department to spend taxpayers’ money to cover the cost of this wrongdoing. This solution obviously screws taxpayers, but maybe they’ll be a bit more careful who they pick to handle the job the next time a sheriff is up for election.
Filed Under: 11th circuit, blake dorning, kirby ingram, louis kubik, madison county, madison county sheriff's department, police brutality, qualified immunity
Comments on “Eleventh Circuit Strips Immunity From Deputy Who Saved A War Vet From Self-Harm By Breaking His Neck”
“had the immediate effect of immobilizing him using nonlethal force”
Because trying to paralyze someone makes the most sense.
In Kubik’s mind, Ingram can’t self-harm ever again if he’s quadriplegic. I guess that’s what the cop was going for. This case sets a really good precedent featuring police brutality against neurodivergent people and (un)qualified immunity, though.
This is the U.S.A.
I entertained for a short moment the thought that the department should be forced to publish this verdict and the details, but frankly?
The sheriff would likely get reelected with the largest majority ever. Because, you know, tough on crime. Like the crime of being a vet with PSD harming themselves.
People want that kind of fuckhead that will make the bad guys™ fear for their lives. Because it would never affect them themselves.
The thrill of Russian Roulette.
Be more careful?
No, because they’ll have a choice between the “tough on crime” incumbent and a “defund the police” challenger. If there is a challenger. Often, there isn’t.
On the excessive-force claim, the district court held that Kubik was entitled to qualified immunity because Ingram “ha[d] not shown that his constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the seizure,” so there was “no need to decide if his constitutional right was violated.”
Ah QI, turning what would have been clearly assault for anyone without a badge into nothing since it hadn’t been ‘clearly established’ that you’re not allowed to slam someone into the ground hard enough to require spinal surgery.
QI never should have been created or considered acceptable and the sooner that legal abomination is killed once and for all the better.
I’m sure davec would not mind at all if his neck was snapped by a deputy. After all, as a war veteran he’d certainly recognize the risk to himself. And imagine if cops across the country lost their QI privileges because he wanted to live! The horror!
The officer is right
If you kill someone, they can’t harm themself.
The police generally take severe offense at anyone who wants to play judge, jury and executioner. That’s their job.
The only thing more disturbing than how many cops seem to have the mindset of ‘How dare you try to kill yourself, that’s our job!’ is how eager and willing so many judges are to defend them when they put it into practice.
Just the regular reminder that Judge Dredd was a British satire on American policing, not a how-to manual.
Re: Re: Re:
The sad thing is I’d trust Judge Dredd far more than modern US police as while both can gun you down on the spot Dredd at least respects the law and would never kill you just because he could and/or didn’t like you.
Re: Re: Re:2
Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve read the comics but I seem to recall he would state a law you broke while shooting you rather than just give some wooly idea that he felt threatened.
I said something very similar and way more accurate about 32 minutes before you did.
Going to stop here for a moment.
Pretty sure this is evidence for that last group being in need of a mental health professional.
As tempting a thought as it might be to imagine that the reason police in the US are so terrible is because they’re suffering from mental illnesses I suspect the actual explanation is a lot simpler and a lot more horrible: They act like that simply because they can.
Claiming that police officers are violent due to mental illness is an ableist promotion of the stereotype that people with schizophrenia, e.g., are inherently violent. The opposite is true in the vast majority of cases.
“…but maybe they’ll be a bit more careful who they pick to handle the job the next time a sheriff is up for election.” Well put! Idiot Amerikan voters have given us everything from this Alabama asshole, to Donald Trump. Who was it, who once said, we get the Government we deserve?! So let those tax dollars go to the victim(s) of this caveman the booger-eating unwashed so gleefully shepherded into office.
Except not all Americans have the same access to the ballot. Some voices are watered down by gerrymandering. Laws, some as old as the reconstruction period, were written to disenfranchise Black voters. The incumbents, the uh “winners” of previous races get to write the regulations for their own future competition. They decide who can vote, what disqualifies you from voting, if & how you can get your right to vote back, how the elections are funded and run. They set the policy for how and where to acquire an ID, which can be a nearly impossible for young people aging out of foster care, which are also disproportionately young Black adults. Not everyone voted for
reminds me of ...
a short story, On Saturday Afternoon, in a book I read in secondary school, Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, and the teacher’s comment on the fact that the would-be suicide in ths story, eventually got his wish. Apparently at one point in time in the UK, the punishment for attempting suicide was hanging. If you were discovered attempting to murder yourself, you got punished by being hanged.
So war vet Ingram was prevented from committing self-harm in the future by having Officer Kubik commit harm on him in the present. Wonderful. We can extend the logic – in one 80s Punch Magazine cartoon I still remember, a dog-owner boasts that his dog is unable to harm himself by chasing cars, because they have amputated his legs.
I’d’ve thought the Supreme Court could be told to go take a running jump off a tall pier concerning the constitutional issues – because if the Declaration of Independence is anything to go by, law enforcement officers being protected from the consequences of their abuses by pretend trials was regarded as aiding and abetting said abuses.
"only crime was trying to harm themselves"
Suicide and attempted suicide for clarity in most Western countries, is not a crime, which is why medical professionals should be the ones responding. Cops have shown all too often they lack the required skillset.
This is a very broad brushstroke, but my experience of policing in Europe vs. what I see in the US is that European police are trained in how to de-escalate situations as far from violence as possible. I’ve seen many examples of US policing where they seem to escalate toward it instead.
It’s a very disturbing trend, and one that can’t be solved when calls to “defund” the police (i.e. stop buying military toys and send medical professionals where appropriate with the money saved” is misconstrued as “stop employing cops”.
Re: Re: US police love to eacalate
I was minding my own business in my garage one day a few years back. 2 officers who were professional contacted myself and the company I had. No issues whatsoever that is until their supervisor decided to show up. The senior officer approached me in a hostile manner asking for identification, upon reaching for my wallet which was in my pocket the bastard pulled his weapon on me and one of the other officers had to jump in-between us and swat his weapon down. Smh this is just one example of many that myself and others can provide of them escalating a non hostile contact.
"Justice" system is so broken
This kind of incident will continue until there are real consequences.
The appropriate response would be locking up the deputy until his attempted murder trial concludes. Any civil settlement paid from his required liability insurance and/or police pension fund.