“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Ohio police officer Paige Mitchell saw two of her colleagues punch and taser a man without probable cause. Victim Cody Jones sued all three officers in their individual capacities for violating his constitutional rights. But because of Trump judge Chad Readler, Jones’s case against Mitchell was dismissed without a trial because a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit found Mitchell had qualified immunity. The January case is Jones v. City of Elyria.
Jones told the court that he was engaged in a conversation and not doing anything remotely suspicious when two police officers called him over. Although they had no reason to suspect him of being armed, they told him to put his hands on the car and gave him a pat-down. By this time, Officer Mitchell had arrived. The first two officers told Jones not to put his hands in his pockets, so he didn’t. Becoming nervous that he was being detained for no reason, Jones looked over his shoulder to talk with the two officers, at which point they tackled him to the ground and pressed his face against the concrete. Although he was not resisting them, they repeatedly punched and tasered him, while Officer Mitchell helped hold him down. They then arrested him for obstructing official police business.
The district court ruled that Jones could sue all three police officers for wrongful arrest and excessive force. But on appeal, a divided Sixth Circuit panel reversed those holdings as applied to Officer Mitchell. In an opinion by Judge Readler, the majority began by setting forth the defendants’ version of the facts, which painted Jones in a bad light and which Jones and two eyewitnesses all contradicted. Only then did Readler present Jones’s version. This is important because when addressing a defendant’s motion to dismiss a case on the basis of qualified immunity, the court is required to analyze how the law applies to the plaintiff’s version of events.
The panel ruled that Officer Mitchell had qualified immunity for wrongful arrest (because she could reasonably have thought her colleagues had a reason for tackling him) and for excessive force (because she “could have fairly believed” Jones posed a threat and believed it was “the surest way to secure the scene”).
In a pointed dissent, Judge Helene White asked “what there was to secure?”
The relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable officer in Officer Mitchell’s position, observing what she observed, would have helped secure Jones’s arrest when, on Jones’s version of the facts, she would have observed that Jones was never resisting any lawful command and had committed no crime. The answer is surely no.
But thanks to Chad Readler—and to the Republican senators who voted to put him on the bench—Jones will not be able to hold Officer Mitchell accountable for her actions.