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Wise v. Caffey.

Nos. 22-5069 & 22-5086. 7/11/2023. N.D.Okla. Judge Tymkovich. Pretrial Detainee—Use of Force—Qualified Immunity—Summary Judgment.

July 11, 2023

Wise was a pretrial detainee at Creek County Jail (jail). He was treated in the jail’s medical unit for neck pain but was dissatisfied with the medical care and began resisting officer and medical staff commands. As a result, Wise was housed in the jail’s segregation unit. While in that unit, he tried to cut a lump from his neck with a spork and was placed in a restraint chair. After he was removed from the restraint chair, officers handcuffed him with his hands behind his back. While standing with his back to a wall, he was instructed to remove his clothes so that he could be placed in a turtle suit. He did not comply, so officers attempted to remove his remaining clothing to place the turtle suit on him. Wise then slid down the wall to a seated position on the floor, with his hands still handcuffed behind his back. While in that position, Officer Caffey performed a knee strike to Wise’s face. As a result of an investigation into the incident, Officer Caffey resigned his employment at Creek County Jail. Wise sued Officer Caffey for excessive use of force and Creek County Sheriff Bowling for supervisory liability under 42 USC § 1983. Wise moved for partial summary judgment, requesting a determination that Officer Caffey’s knee strike was excessive as a matter of law. Officer Caffey moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court granted Wise’s motion and denied Officer Caffey’s, holding that his knee strike was excessive as a matter of law and that he was not entitled to qualified immunity. Sheriff Bowling moved for summary judgment in his official and individual capacities. The district court denied both motions.

On appeal, Officer Caffey argued that the district court erred in denying his summary judgment motion because the court’s factual findings were erroneously based on a visible fiction that was contradicted by the evidence. However, based on video evidence, the district court’s factual recital is consistent with the record, so the Tenth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to review Officer Caffey’s arguments as to factual disputes. The Tenth Circuit thus exercised its jurisdiction to review the qualified immunity ruling and determine (1) whether the facts that the district court ruled a reasonable jury could find would show a legal violation and (2) whether that law was clearly established when the alleged violation occurred. Here, applying the factors in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 576 U.S. 389, 398 (2015), for determining the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the force used, a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Officer Caffey’s use of force was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances and therefore violated Wise’s Fourteenth Amendment rights. Further, it is clearly established in the Tenth Circuit that officers may not continue to use force against a resisting arrestee who has been effectively subdued. Accordingly, Officer Caffey is not entitled to qualified immunity.

Sheriff Bowling contended that he is entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. The district court relied solely on Keith v. Koerner, 843 F.3d 833 (10th Cir. 2016), to hold that it was clearly established that Sheriff Bowling’s conduct violated Wise’s constitutional rights as of the incident date. However, Keith involved a prison with a pattern of widespread and persistent abuse, and here there is no evidence of a persistent pattern of use-of-force violations against inmates by jail staff generally or by Officer Caffey in particular. Accordingly, Keith did not establish a proposition of clearly established law that Sheriff Bowling’s conduct violated. Thus, even assuming that Wise can establish that Sheriff Bowling violated his constitutional rights under a supervisor liability theory, Sheriff Bowling was not clearly on notice that his policies, training, and supervision of Officer Caffey were constitutionally deficient. Therefore, Sheriff Bowling is entitled to qualified immunity.

The denial of summary judgment as to Officer Caffey’s qualified immunity defense was affirmed. The denial of summary judgment as to Sheriff Bowling’s qualified immunity defense was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in his favor.

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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