Civil Rights

Lawsuit allowed against officer accused of holding woman down with his knees

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A federal appeals court has allowed a lawsuit against a police officer accused of throwing a handcuffed woman facedown on the grass and crushing her back with his knees.

In a July 29 opinion, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York rejected the officer’s bid to toss the excessive force suit on the basis of qualified immunity.

The officer from Norwich, New York, had arrested the plaintiff, Jessica Lennox, after she confronted a group of teenagers who were with her ex-boyfriend in a park.

Lennox had stopped her car when she spotted the ex-boyfriend. She told the ex-boyfriend that he should turn himself in on an outstanding warrant and asked the teenagers why they were hanging out with a person who was a heroin addict and drug dealer.

Lennox admits that she may have raised her voice when speaking with one female teenager but denies punching her in the face. Lennox asked someone to call the police, and the ex-boyfriend ran.

Lennox’s 4-year-old son got out of the car at some point during the confrontation. Lennox was walking him back to the car when two officers arrived.

According to Lennox, one of the officers she knew from previous encounters cursed when Lennox asked him to arrest the ex-boyfriend. She picked up her child before the officer grabbed her arms and handcuffed her. The boy fell out of her arms and hit the ground, Lennox alleged.

Lennox had testified that she wanted to pull away from the officer, but he was “just way too strong to even attempt anything.” According to Lennox, the officer threw her face down on the grass, put his body weight on her, and “crushed her” so hard that she “urinated everywhere.” Witnesses later told Lennox that the officer had put both knees into her back.

Lennox said she told the officer that she had asthma, she couldn’t breathe and he was hurting her. He allegedly replied, “Oh, you can breathe, little b- - - -.” He allegedly bashed her head to the ground, then swung her up on her feet and put her into the police car.

At the police station, Lennox cried and screamed, yelling that the officer had crushed her and pounded her head in. She also said she was in pain because her earring was stuck in her ear. She was taken to the hospital. She testified that she had bruises, a shoulder scrape and injuries to her ear that “took weeks to heal fully.”

Lennox sued the officer who allegedly kneed her, as well as the second officer who did nothing to intervene while he was dealing with the group of teenagers.

The 2nd Circuit said the second officer had qualified immunity because there is no evidence that he had a reasonable opportunity to intervene or that “his failure to do so contravened clearly established law.”

The 2nd Circuit refused to grant qualified immunity to the other officer, however, because a reasonable jury could find that the officer used significant force, and Lennox wasn’t resisting arrest at the time.

The court noted a previous decision finding that “the use of entirely gratuitous force is unreasonable and therefore excessive.”

The case is Lennox v. Miller.

Hat tip to Courthouse News Service.

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