McManemy v. Tierney, 2020 WL 4742501 (8th Cir. 2020)
Officers believed Charles McManemy was carrying illegal drugs, planning to make a delivery to a customer. They intended to conduct a traffic stop before he successfully made the delivery. The officers knew McManemy: They’d arrested him on several occasions and he had previously led them on a car chase. Unbeknownst to the officers, McManemy’s mother called him while he was driving and told him his father was near death in a regional hospital.
An officer spotted McManemy and saw him run a stop sign. The officer turned and activated his emergency lights. McManemy fled because he was scared and wanted to get to the hospital to see his father. He led officers on a 12-minute chase, reaching speeds of 80 to 90 miles per hour. At one point, officers tried to knock McManemy off the road. He drove through a plowed cornfield, snagging a hundred feet of barbed-wire fencing that sparked and whipped against the road behind him – yee-haw. Officers tried to toss a spike strip across the road, but the strip flew into and through McManemy’s windshield.
When he finally came to a stop, several officers surrounded McManemy’s truck and commanded him to get out. McManemy got out after trying to make a phone call and lighting a cigarette. He lay down on the ground, spread-eagled. When officers tried to handcuff him, McManemy began to struggle. Eventually, six officers helped control McManemy, applying two interlocked sets of handcuffs.
McManemy sued, alleging one officer applied a TASER® device – five times according to McManemy and twice according to the officer and the TASER data log — and another used a knee to strike his head as many as 20 to 30 times. McManemy sued one of the officers for failure to intervene in the use of the TASER device.
Court: “Perhaps most importantly, McManemy admits that he suffered his injuries during a struggle to handcuff him, not when he was fully subdued.”
Core to McManemy’s claim is his assertion the officers knew him from prior encounters and should have recalled he had a preexisting shoulder condition that required the extra room afforded by handcuffing with two sets of cuffs. McManemy claims his thrashing and kicking when the officers approached him was an involuntary reaction to efforts to pull his arm into position for handcuffing. The officers testified they perceived McManemy was trying to kick them. They also testified they were unaware of his shoulder injury.
The court held the first application of the TASER device was warranted because McManemy was resisting efforts to handcuff him. The officers had control of only his right arm at the time. It was irrelevant that he had some explanation for thrashing about, as the officers were entitled to handcuff and control him. They could reasonably conclude, after the car chase, that McManemy was armed and holding illegal drugs. The second TASER application, a three-second touch to McManemy’s thigh, facilitated handcuffing and was likewise justified. Thus, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for the TASER device use because it did not violate a constitutional right.
The officers were also entitled to qualified immunity for the alleged knee strikes, but for a slightly different reason. The officers denied using any knee strikes and the video did not clearly show evidence one way or the other. Even if the officers did use knee strikes, the right to be free from knee strikes in these circumstances was not clearly established at the time. The court concluded, “Perhaps most importantly, McManemy admits that he suffered his injuries during a struggle to handcuff him, not when he was fully subdued.”
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