Qualified Immunity for Sloppy Work, “One Free Shove” Disallowed

Butler v. City of Detroit, 2019 (6th Cir. 2019)

An investigator obtained a search warrant for 12011 Bramell after an informant provided information about a drug dealer’s activity at three addresses on Burnette and Bramell, including 12011 Bramell. The detective’s affidavit claimed he had watched the Burnette and Bramell addresses, located some eight miles apart, simultaneously.

Officers executed the warrant at 12011 Bramell, a home owned by LeRod Butler, a retired military veteran with no prior convictions or links to drug operations. Butler’s home alarm company notified him someone had broken into his house. When he arrived at the house, he found police officers there. Butler showed his identification, stated he was the homeowner and that he had a concealed pistol license and was carrying a weapon. Butler was handcuffed and one officer “slammed” him “against the wall.” Butler had sustained a serious neck injury during military service, resulting in a spinal fusion operation and disability-based retirement; the “slam” reinjured him.

The officer who slammed Butler into the wall argued he should be granted qualified immunity because “he was shoved against a wall one time.”

Officers found cash and a few ibuprofen tablets in the house. Butler was never charged, though his cash was not returned. He filed suit, alleging excessive force and unreasonable search and seizure. Acknowledging the investigator’s errors and failure to verify the informant’s claims about 12011 Bramell, the court held the affidavit contained enough information to establish the address could have been a “stash house.” The investigator had verified some of the informant’s claims about the other addresses. The court did not believe the investigator was deliberately untruthful. This was enough to allow the investigator qualified immunity for the failure to verify information about the home.

The officer who slammed Butler into the wall argued he should be granted qualified immunity because “he was shoved against a wall one time.” Essentially, the officer claimed the service of a search warrant should have allowed him one free shove of the undisputedly cooperative homeowner. The court disagreed, stating “Assaulting an unarmed and compliant individual has been a clearly established violation of the Fourth Amendment for decades. And the Constitution says nothing about free passes for just ‘one shove against the wall,’ even during drug raids.”

Note: A dissenting judge disagreed the investigator should have been entitled to qualified immunity, opining that a jury should have the chance to decide whether the Fourth Amendment “has been seriously abridged in this case.”

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

Deadly Sins: 7 Law Enforcement Career-Killers

Related Posts

Back to Top