WORK WITH US
Peace Officer’s Termination Upheld Following Multiple Uses of Excessive Force
LCW Partner Jack Hughes and Associate Attorneys Brian Hoffman and Savana Manglona successfully represented a city in a peace officer’s termination appeal. The officer violated the police department’s use of force policies when he placed his hand around a suspect’s throat.
In 2017, a peace officer was involved in three separate use of force incidents. The first occurred when the officer punched a suspect in the head with a closed-fist after the officer perceived the suspect was resisting arrest. The second occurred when the officer punched a suspect in the head after the suspect refused to exit a house. After reviewing both incidents, the department found that the officer did not use the most appropriate force, and decided not to discipline the officer. Instead, the department required the officer to attend a one-on-one refresher training on the department’s use of force policies. In May 2017, the department’s sergeant and primary use of force instructor administered the refresher training. The sergeant explained less extreme use of force techniques that the officer could use.
Approximately three months later, the officer was involved in the third use of force. He slapped a suspect several times after the suspect resisted handcuffs. During the incident, the officer complained over body-worn cameras that the slaps were “weak and crappy” and he preferred to punch the suspect in the face. The sergeant later met with the officer to discuss those comments and advised that while the officer was not subject to discipline, his comments were inappropriate and unprofessional.
In March 2018, the officer was involved in another use of force incident. He placed his hand on a handcuffed suspect’s throat, under the chin, using a C-clamp chokehold. A C-clamp chokehold occurs when an officer grabs a suspect by the front of the neck with his hand cupped in the shape of a “C.” The officer then squeezes in a clamp-style motion. The department does not teach the C-clamp chokehold because of the heightened risk of serious bodily injury. When the officer used a C-clamp chokehold on the suspect, the suspect reacted with loud choking sounds and yelled, “You’re choking me!” and “I can’t breathe!” several times. Eventually, other officers placed the suspect in a full-body restraint system to prevent the suspect from moving. The suspect later asked the officer, “You like choking people, huh?” The officer responded, “When they need it.” The officer’s body camera footage captured this incident. After conducting its use of force review, the city immediately placed the officer on administrative leave.
The city conducted an internal affairs investigation into the officer’s use of force. The city determined the officer violated the department’s conduct and use of force policies and terminated him. The officer appealed. The officer persistently denied any wrongdoing, including squeezing the suspect’s throat or applying any pressure on the suspect’s airway.
After a five-day appeal hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that the level of force the officer used was excessive and improper. The ALJ also found the officer’s conduct did not comply with the department’s policy and training on the use of force. The videos from the officer’s body camera showed the officer placing his hand on the suspect’s throat more than once, and the suspect instantly choking or gagging. Other officers at the scene also said the officer placed his hands over the suspect’s throat and applied pressure. Finally, the officer’s comment to the suspect that he only choked people “when they need it” acknowledged his use of force. The ALJ found the department did not abuse its discretion in terminating the officer. This was not an isolated incident but was the officer’s fourth questionable use of force in just over a year. Moreover, the officer’s comments indicated an inability to be rehabilitated.
This case illustrates how conducting a thorough investigation and building a solid administrative record helps to protect a city’s final disciplinary ruling from a court challenge. Agencies can count on LCW to be a trusted advisor throughout a peace officer investigation, discipline, and legal challenges.