Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Supreme Court Rejects Suit That Argued Excessive Force by Police

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Supreme Court Rejects Suit That Argued Excessive Force by Police

Article excerpt

A man in West Palm Beach, Fla., died while police tried to restrain him. His mother filed a suit that claimed her son was the victim of excessive force by police officers, but the Supreme Court dismissed the case Monday.

An October 2005 confrontation on a dark street in West Palm Beach, Fla., could have been just another episode of the real-life police television program "Cops."

A distraught, shirtless man stumbled at the edge of the road while apparently trying to flag down passing vehicles. At one point, he begins to gesticulate wildly and runs toward traffic, yelling. A police officer radios in a "Signal 20," a mentally disturbed subject. The officer attempts to restrain him. The man resists. More officers arrive.

The entire encounter lasted only a few minutes and was recorded by a "Cops" film crew riding along with the first officer on the scene. But the videotape of the confrontation never made it into a public broadcast. That's because after being hogtied by five police officers, the shirtless man, Donald Lewis, stopped breathing and died right there at the side of the road.

On Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to examine a lawsuit filed Mr. Lewis's mother, Linda, claiming that her son was the victim of excessive force by West Palm Beach police officers. The high court offered no explanation for its dismissal of the case.

The action lets stand earlier rulings by a federal judge and a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta that said all five officers are shielded from the lawsuit by qualified immunity.

Ms. Lewis and her lawyers had argued that the encounter between the police officers and Donald Lewis was a violation of her son's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable and excessive use of force by police officers.

In the Supreme Court petition, Lewis argued that in 2005, it was clearly established law that hogtying a distraught subject constitutes use of deadly force. Once Donald Lewis was handcuffed and his legs shackled, Lewis and her lawyers said, it was unnecessary to bind his wrists and ankles tightly together behind his back while officers allegedly continued to kneel on his shoulders and neck. …

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