Court Requests Additional Examination Of Evidence In Excessive Force Case

The case of Lombardo v. City of St. Louis involved a detainee who died after police officers sought to restrain him after an apparent suicide attempt. After the detainee resisted, he was handcuffed and put in leg irons, and then placed prone on the floor, face down, with four officers applying pressure to hold him down. After 15 minutes of further struggle while in that position, the detainee stopped breathing. The detainee’s parents filed an excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment. The district court held the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate a “clearly established” constitutional right. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding instead that the amount of force used was not excessive and was “objectively reasonable.”

The Court, in a 6-3 per curiam opinion, remanded the case back to the Eighth Circuit for further consideration, since it was “unclear whether [that] court thought the use of prone restraint—no matter the kind, intensity, duration, or surrounding circumstances—is per se constitutional so long as an individual appear to resist officers’ efforts to subdue him.” The Court stressed that all the facts and circumstances needed to be carefully weighed in any decision. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, dissented, arguing that the Eighth Circuit was not unclear in its decision, and the Court should have dug into the factual record itself to make a ruling.

A link to the opinion is here: