The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia recently issued an important ruling in a civil rights case brought by two men who were allegedly brutalized by a group of police officers.
Mr. Lester and his nephew, Mr. West, sued the City of Gilbert and a number of local and state police officers, claiming that the officers brutally beat them in their home in August 2011. The officers originally went to Lester and West’s trailer in Gilbert Creek after Larry Thomas, a deputy with the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department, came home to find that his door had been kicked in and his police-issued gun stolen. Nathan Glanden, an officer with the City of Gilbert, Thomas, and a group of other officers went to Lester and West’s place to inquire about the gun. The two men were known criminals, according to Glanden, with a history of involvement in a wide variety of crimes.
Lester answered the door when the officers arrived at the trailer. He told them that he didn’t have the gun and didn’t know where it was. Lester later said that the cops looked at West like he “had something to do with it” or that he at least knew where the weapon was. The officers later left the home after West said he didn’t know anything about the gun. According to Lester and West, Glanden warned that we would be back if the weapon wasn’t recovered and that “hell will be coming with him.” Glanden and several other officers allegedly returned near 3 a.m. and proceeded to savagely beat Lester and West with their fists, a flapjack, and a stick. The officers also allegedly poured liquid laundry detergent into West’s eyes before stomping on his head and taking the tongue off of a bear rug that hung on the wall and shoving it into West’s mouth. Finally, Lester and West said the officers broke all of the lights in the home and threw cans of food through the windows.
The men were treated for their injuries, including various bruises and abrasions, head injuries, and West’s broken nose. They sued the city and the individual officers for federal civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The law allows individuals to file a private, civil lawsuit against state actors for violations of their constitutionally protected rights.
The District Court dismissed the claims against the city, finding that it was protected by municipal liability. Although Glanden was a city employee, the Court said Lester and West had to show that he was carrying out a city policy or custom during the alleged attack – or that the attack stemmed from the city’s failure to properly train Glanden – in order for the municipality to be liable for his actions. “There is no suggestion in the record that Glanden did not receive training regarding excessive force from his prior employer,” the Court concluded.
Nevertheless, the Court refused to dismiss the claims against the officers in the individual capacities. The Court said the officers weren’t entitled to qualified immunity because their alleged actions – if proved – violated Lester and West’s clearly established rights. “Government officials performing discretionary functions are entitled to qualified immunity from liability for civil damages to the extent that their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” the Court explained. Here, the officers argued only that they never returned to the home and beat the two men. They didn’t argue that the alleged beating would be protected by qualified immunity. As a result, the Court said further proceedings were necessary to determine whether the incident actually occurred.
Police brutality such as that alleged in this case is a serious matter, and those affected by it have the right to seek legal remedies. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of police abuse, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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