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Standard in Excessive Force Claims for Pretrial Detainees in Jail: Kingsley v. Hendrickson

On Behalf of | Jul 27, 2015 | Firm News

The use of excessive force by police officers has certainly taken center stage lately in some high profile incidents like the one that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri. In a lesser profile case, the United States Supreme Court recently set forth a new standard for use of force by police and jailers against persons accused but not yet convicted of a crime. In a case known as Kingsley v. Hendrickson, the Court ruled that suspects in detainment awaiting trial are due the same standard as persons who are in the process of being arrested.

Previous to the Court’s ruling, a person who had been convicted of a crime and was alleging use of excessive force had to prove that the offending officer intended to inflict the harm that was suffered. For example, if an officer twisted an inmate’s arm behind his back and broke the arm, liability would be found only if it was proved that the officer meant to hurt the inmate rather than just to restrain him. On the other end of the spectrum, the standard is that a suspect alleging injury in the course of being arrested would only have to show that the force used was unreasonable. In other words, the suspect only has to show what the officer did and that it was unreasonable under the circumstances, while a person convicted of a crime must show that the officer’s state of mind was to do harm.

In the Kingsley case, Michael Kingsley was being held before trial in jail in Wisconsin. After refusing an instruction from jail officers to remove a piece of paper from a light bulb in his cell, he was forcibly handcuffed, was shocked with a Taser, suffered a head injury, and was left in his cell unattended. The trial court applied the standard applicable to convicted criminals–that is–whether the officers intended the harm that was suffered. The Supreme Court, however, found that pre-trial detainees were due the same standard as a citizen not yet convicted of or charged with a crime.

The attorneys at Tipp & Buley have extensive experience in civil rights law. Our attorneys have over 55 years of combined experience litigating cases in Western Montana. If you have an issue you’d like to discuss with counsel, please call our Missoula law office at 406-389-4215 or visit us online.