Handcuffs as a De-escalation Tool, Not a De Facto Arrest

United States v. Eatman, 2019 (7th Cir. 2019)

An apartment security guard called police after Micha Eatman’s girlfriend locked Eatman out of her apartment. The security guard specifically requested multiple officers respond and reported Eatman might have committed a battery. Eatman was pounding on his girlfriend’s apartment door and yelling to be let inside. The security guard told responding officers Eatman may have a gun. The officers frisked Eatman, seized a loaded handgun, and placed him in handcuffs.

Officers asked Eatman to show them the gun’s registration. Eatman had neither a concealed weapon permit nor the handgun registration; he claimed the gun belonged to his girlfriend and that he took it to keep it away from the kids in the apartment. The girlfriend refused to sign a complaint over the fight and possible assault; she was more interested in retrieving $300 she claimed Eatman stole from her. The officers took Eatman to the police station, where they found Eatman had two prior felony convictions. He was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

Courts have consistently authorized the use of handcuffs so long as their use was a “reasonably graduated response to the demands of the situation.”

Eatman challenged his arrest, claiming he was arrested without probable cause when placed in handcuffs (prior to the officers learning of the felony convictions). Eatman didn’t contest the officers had reasonable suspicion to frisk him when they found him pounding on the door and in light of the security officer’s report he might have a gun. Rather, Eatman claimed the handcuffing was unreasonable because the officers had already found and seized the gun; they only asked him about the gun registration card and concealed carry permit after he was handcuffed. The handcuffing represented a de facto arrest, he argued.

Courts have consistently authorized the use of handcuffs so long as their use was a “reasonably graduated response to the demands of the situation.” In this case, the court recognized handcuffing Eatman was “based on the need to secure the situation and for the safety of all involved including the responding officers.” The officers had been told about Eatman possibly assaulting his girlfriend, carrying a gun, and disturbing the peace. Moreover, the information came from a presumably reliable informant, a security guard in the building.

The court observed that, at the point of handcuffing Eatman, there was probable cause for the officers to arrest him for either battery or disturbing the peace. Even though there was cause to arrest him, the officers did not (at that point). Handcuffing Eatman “was not an arrest but rather a method to de-escalate the situation and allow the officers to investigate.” Careful reporting of the underlying circumstances, along with detailed reporting of the officers’ observations, clearly showed the proper use of the handcuffs: to control and de-escalate, rather than create a de facto arrest.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

More Posts

10 Ways to Lose Police Lawsuits
[On-Demand Webinar]

Related Posts

Back to Top