NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Two white Louisiana sheriff’s deputies who forced a Black woman facedown to the ground in 2020 as they investigated an allegation that she had been riding a motorcycle without a helmet asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to throw out a lawsuit the woman filed against them.
U.S. District Judge Wendy Vitter refused to dismiss the civil case last year against St. Tammany Parish Deputies Kyle Hart and Ryan Moring, ruling that there was evidence of constitutional violations against Teliah Perkins and her son, then 14, arising from the May 2020 arrest for resisting an officer in front of her home. The deputies’ lawyer told the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Vitter’s ruling was wrong and that video clearly shows the officers’ actions were justified.
Perkins’ is seeking damages for herself and her son, who was threatened with a Taser as he recorded the arrest.
One issue before the three appellate judges hearing the case Wednesday morning: whether they have the authority to overrule the lower court based on video evidence at this point in the lawsuit, which has not yet gone to trial before a jury.
“We’re here on a very limited standard of review,” Judge Cory Wilson said at one point as attorney Chadwick Collings argued for the deputies. “How do we get beyond what the district court found to be a genuine issue of fact?”
Vitter had ruled there was evidence supporting Perkins’ claims that the officers used unnecessary force even after she’d been subdued and that her son was clearly not interfering with her arrest when Moring shoved him in the chest and threatened him with a Taser as the teen recorded. The evidence of constitutional rights being violated overcame the deputies’ claim that the suit should be thrown out under the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which protects police from lawsuits arising from the scope of their work.
Collings argued that the appeals court has the right to throw out the case at this stage based on three videos by the son and others that he said clearly show the officers’ actions were justifiable.
Exactly what the videos show and how they should be interpreted was at issue throughout the hearing – including whether Perkins was choked at some point during her arrest.
“The video shows the officer’s hand on her neck,” Wilson told Collings at one point.
“For two seconds,” Collings replied.
“In fairness, the video is a bit hard to follow,” Judge James Ho said later in the hearing.
Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod did raise doubts about Perkins’ claims that the officer brandishing a Taser rose to an unconstitutional threat against her son.
“This is a non-lethal weapon,” Elrod said.
Keith Cohan, representing Perkins and her son, said the officer brandishing the Taser and shoving the teen constituted violations of his rights.
Perkins didn’t deny in her lawsuit that she resisted arrest or that she was subsequently found guilty of resisting a police officer. Perkins’ lawyers argued that the force used during the arrest – at one point she was held face down with a deputy’s knee in her back, at another she was face up with a deputy’s hand briefly on her throat – was clearly excessive. And they say it continued after she stopped resisting.
Perkins alleges the incident left her with chronic pain in her legs, back and neck, as well as depression, anxiety and insomnia that require medication. Her suit claims her son’s injuries include post-traumatic stress disorder.
The lawsuit was filed as part of the “Justice Lab” project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which enlists the aid of private attorneys in suing over racially discriminatory police practices.
There was no indication when the 5th Circuit panel would rule.
Judges Ho and Wilson were nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump; Elrod was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush. Vitter was nominated for the district court judgeship by Trump.
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