Monday, March 15, 2021

Excessive force

Here's a case from January 2021 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  Here's a map of the circuits.
This case is called Dean v Jones and is an appeal of a case from the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Dean is a prison inmate.  While being escorted back to his cell after a hair cut, he head-butted one of the prison guards.  He alleges that they retaliated against him by spraying him with pepper spray while he was handcuffed and lying on his back.  After they stood him up and began walking with him again, he head-butted a guard again.  This time, the guards shoved him into a closet and multiple guards kicked and punched him while he was on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Dean sued, alleging excessive force and "cruel and unusual punishment". The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution regarding excessive force requires an analysis of motive. Did the officers used force in good faith to protect officer safety, or did they used force maliciously to punish Dean for his head-butts?

The trial court ruled that no reasonable jury could decide that the officers did anything other than protect their safety.  On appeal of that ruling, the appellate court reversed, stating that once a trial is conducted, a reasonable jury could decide either way.  So the case will proceed to trial.

Do you agree with the court's conclusion?  Why or why not?


  1. I'm assuming he was handcuffed for the walk back? In which case, he already attacked them while handcuffed, so the court was correct.