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Fort Worth Police – United States Court of Appeals Ruling

Monday, August 28th, 2017

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which governs federal law in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, recently heard and ruled on a case arising in Fort Worth, Texas.  Fort Worth police officers arrested an obese man while executing a no-knock warrant at the man’s home.  Allegedly, the officers threw the man to the ground, Tased him twice, choked him, punched and kicked him in the face, and pushed him into a face-down position.  The man suffered a heart attack and died during and, his family alleges, as a result of the arrest.  The Fort Worth federal district court ruled against the man’s family on summary judgment, and the family appealed.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court, finding that it erred in its conclusions.

One thing the Fifth Circuit noted was that the district court seemed to disregard the “eggshell skull” rule.  The eggshell skull rule is a rule recognizing that a person harming another person must take the harmed person as they find him or her.  In other words, if the harmed person already has pre-existing medical issues, the person injuring the harmed person cannot complain that the harmed person was hurt more easily than an average person – as a result of the pre-existing medical condition.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also determined that there was a fact issue about whether Fort Worth police officers had used excessive force.  The United States Constitution protects all citizens from excessive force by police officers.  A “fact question” is what is necessary to survive a summary judgment motion.  In other words, there must be sufficient facts for a jury to find, in this case for example, that police officers used excessive force when arresting and/or detaining a person.  The Fifth Circuit looked at three issues to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of excessive force to go to trial – the severity of the crime; whether there was an immediate safety threat; and whether the man was resisting arrest.  After examining all those factors, the court determined that a reasonable jury could find that the Fort Worth police officers violated the man’s constitutional rights and used unconstitutional excessive force.

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