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Hooks v. Atoki.

No. 19-6093. W.D.Okla. Judge McHugh. Civil Rights—42 USC § 1983—Excessive Force—Deliberate Indifference.

December 28, 2020

Plaintiff pleaded no contest to two counts of assault and battery on a police officer and a drug-related charge in exchange for the dismissal of two other drug-related charges. He was sentenced to concurrent four-year terms of imprisonment. When defendant arrived at the county jail, the guard did not ask him about his gang affiliations, in violation of jail policy. Jail officials were aware of plaintiff’s “crips” gang affiliation but placed him in a pod reserved for members of the rival “bloods” gang. Plaintiff was attacked by several prisoners in the prison’s canteen area.

Plaintiff filed civil rights claims against several officers and prison officials. He alleged that the two officers who arrested him removed him from a car and attempted to maneuver him to a police car without an explanation or the use of handcuffs. Plaintiff further alleged that the arresting officers wrestled with him in attempt to arrest him and one of the officers tased him. Plaintiff also alleged that when he dropped to the ground unmoving, the officer tased him again, and then the second officer placed him in a chokehold. Defendants filed motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, which the district court granted.

On appeal, plaintiff contended that it was error for the district court to dismiss his excessive force claim. In analyzing an excessive force claim, the court must compare the plaintiff’s allegation to the offense he committed. Here, plaintiff pleaded no contest to a severe crime that inherently poses an immediate threat to officer safety. In addition, he alleged that he was actively resisting arrest. Consequently, the arresting officers were justified in employing some force against plaintiff, and he is therefore barred from recovering damages based on four alleged uses of force. However, an officer may be liable for excessive force against a suspect who no longer poses a threat. Accordingly, because it is plausible that the arresting officers were on notice that plaintiff no longer posed a threat after he collapsed on his stomach on the ground, he is not barred from pursuing claims against the arresting officers for the second taser deployment and the chokehold.

Plaintiff also argued that the district court applied the wrong legal standard to the deliberate indifference claims. However, the district court did not err in applying a subjective intent standard to these claims.

Plaintiff further contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the prison guard. To prevail on this argument, plaintiff was required to demonstrate that the officer responded unreasonably to the attack. Here, the guard arrived with other guards within 28 seconds of the initial assault, so no reasonable juror could conclude the officer responded unreasonably. The district court properly entered summary judgment as to the prison guard.

The excessive force claims against the arresting officers were reversed and remanded, and the dismissal of the remaining claims was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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