The United States Law Week

Stomping Ankle May Have Been Too Much Force, but Officer Immune

July 9, 2020, 5:03 PM

A police officer who stomped on a belligerent suspect’s ankle to subdue him while other officers were on top of him is entitled to qualified immunity from the suspect’s excessive force lawsuit, the Eighth Circuit said Thursday.

Davenport, Iowa, police officer Brian Stevens’ stomp on Juan Shelton’s ankle may be deemed excessive, but it falls into the “sometimes hazy border” between reasonable and unreasonable conduct, the opinion by Judge Steven M. Colloton said.

Shelton was suspected of violently kicking a man’s head and leaving him in a coma. When two officers tried to arrest him, they saw a loaded magazine and handgun in his car.

Instead of getting out of his car, Shelton sped away, crashed his car, and fled on foot. When the officers caught him, he resisted arrest and fought being handcuffed.

Two officers tackled Shelton and three others joined in to help restrain him.

Shelton was in a chokehold when Stevens and another officer approached the scrum. The other officer hit Shelton in the head with the butt of his radio, and two seconds later Stevens stomped on his ankle, breaking it, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said.

The district court granted all the officers except Stevens qualified immunity, saying his use of force was unreasonable.

“Some use of force was reasonable, and constitutional distinctions among a chokehold, a radio-bang to the head, and an unreasonable ankle-stomp—all objectively designed to prompt Shelton to surrender his hands—are hazy enough to warrant qualified immunity for Stevens,” the court said.

Judges Roger L. Wollman and Duane Benton joined the opinion.

Bradley & Riley represented Shelton. Lane & Waterman represented Stevens.

The case is Shelton v. Stevens, 8th Cir., No. 18-3379, 7/9/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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