Excessive Force

Kent v. Oakland Cty., 810 F.3d 384 (6th Cir. 2016)

Qualified immunity denied to officers who tased a man who was agitated but not armed, actively resisting arrest, or making threats of physical harm against the officers and EMTs seeking his compliance.

Background: Claudio Lopez and Christina Maher—both Oakland County Sherriff’s Deputies—responded to the natural, at-home death of Michael Kent’s father. When EMTs attempted to attach an Automated External Defibrillator to Kent’s father, Kent objected on the grounds that his father had not wished for life-sustaining procedures. Kent became increasingly agitated, yelling at the deputies and EMTs and refusing to calm down. One of the EMTs asked the deputies for assistance and told one deputy that he felt he could not perform his duties for fear of Kent intervening. After additional commands by the deputies to calm down, Deputy Lopez stated pulled out his taser and told Kent that he would deploy it, to which Kent reported that he replied, with his hands in the air, “Go ahead and Taze me, then.” It was at this point that Deputies Lopez and Maher tased Kent. Kent brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the deputies moved for summary judgment on the grounds of qualified and governmental immunity. Finding that the deputies’ use of the taser under the circumstances was clearly unreasonable, the district court denied the motion for summary judgment. The deputies appealed.

Holding: The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial, holding that there was no combination of facts that would have made the officers’ use of force reasonable. Especially important to the Court was the fact that Kent’s resistance to the officers’ directions was only verbal and generally non-threatening. The Court found that, while Kent did not address the officers in a polite manner, his conduct did “not resemble the ‘continued resistance and hostility’ often present in our active resistance cases…”

Notable Points:

Kent did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of others: Even though Kent may have prevented EMTs from doing their duties, his conduct did not “resemble the physical and immediate safety threat” found in other cases in which tasing was justified. Examples of threats that warrant tasing include: a suspect who is armed, a suspect reported to be armed reaching into a bag, or a suspect whose violent resistance endangers responders.

Kent was not continuously resistant and hostile in a way that warranted use of force against him: The Sixth Circuit noted that active resistance of arrest, which would support use of a stun gun or taser by police, includes physically struggling against, threatening, or disobeying officers. It could also include refusing to allow police to handcuff a person or fleeing from police. Although Kent was not compliant with all orders given to him by police, he was not actively resisting them in a way that would have authorized use of a stun gun against him. Additionally, the Court found it important that there was “no evidence that Kent was aware that he would be detained until Deputy Lopez instructed him that he would be tased if he failed to comply with commands.”

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 1