Cops Who Beat and Killed an Innocent Man Are Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity, Appeals Court Rules. But the Cops Who Watched Are.
Two officers who beat and ultimately killed a schizophrenic man—who had been subdued and who had not committed a crime—are not entitled to qualified immunity and can thus be sued over the incident, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled last week.
The decision affirms the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana’s ruling, which held that the pair violated Kendole Joseph’s Fourth Amendment rights and used excessive force when they delivered 26 blunt-force blows to his face, back, chest, extremities, scrotum, and testes, resulting in his death two days later.
But while the 5th Circuit agreed that Joseph’s rights were also violated by a group of bystander officers—who watched the beating, with some participating in ways stopping short of blunt-force—they granted them qualified immunity. The legal doctrine shields public officials from accountability when their misconduct and the associated circumstances have not been outlined almost exactly in a preexisting court decision, even in cases where the court agrees the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were violated.
On February 7, 2017, the assistant principal at Gretna Middle School told Officers Thomas Thompson and Arthur Morvant, who work at the school, that a “strange guy,” who was “nervous and shaky” and “not walking straight,” was loitering outside the gate. After the two approached Joseph, they reported that he fled the area, yelling, “Help me from the police!” Morvant, who said that it was clear Joseph may be “emotionally disturbed,” alerted nearby officers that a “suspicious person” was on the move.
Officers Eddie Martin and Brandon Leduff heard Morvant’s radio call and noticed Joseph shortly thereafter. They commanded that he come toward them; he instead ducked into a convenience store. The officers followed. By Martin’s own admission, it did not appear that Joseph had a weapon on his person, nor did Joseph make any attempt to reach for one. Upon entering the store, they heard Joseph shouting, “Help me, help me, somebody call the cops” and “They’re trying to kill me.” Martin pointed his gun at Joseph and ordered him to get on the ground, at which point Joseph jumped over the convenience store counter and assumed the fetal position, face-down.
Martin then put most of his 300-pound body weight on Joseph and tased him for 11 seconds, demanding he put his hands behind his back. How he could have complied while Martin was on top of him remains unclear
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