KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An appeals court has revived part of a lawsuit in which a man alleged that police violated his civil rights by using excessive force when they arrested him during often-violent protests over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, three years ago.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday partly reversed a judge’s dismissal of a $40 million lawsuit brought by 10 people who alleged that police used excessive force and made improper arrests amid the unrest in Ferguson in the days after a white officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown during an altercation in a street. The panel restored the lawsuit on behalf of one plaintiff, Dwayne Matthews Jr. It names St. Louis County, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and individual police officers as defendants.
U.S. District Judge Henry Autry dismissed the lawsuit last year, concluding that the protesters ignored repeated warnings to disperse and that the officers named as defendants were legally immune from the lawsuit. Autry also found that the plaintiffs failed to present credible evidence proving that the questioned police tactics involved malice or bad faith and that many of the plaintiffs’ allegations were not supported by video evidence or other testimony.
The 8th Circuit revived only the claims of Matthews, who said police beat him, held his head underwater for several seconds in a roadside culvert, slammed his face onto pavement, and pepper sprayed him after he repeatedly was shot by bean bags and rubber bullets as he walked through the protest zone on his way to his mother’s home.
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The confrontation happened after Matthews disobeyed warnings by officers in a police line to stop approaching them, the 8th Circuit wrote.
The officers denied that they mistreated Matthews, who was examined at a hospital and released.
“While the officers and Matthews vehemently disagree about whether Matthews was resisting and the extent and reasonableness of the force applied, these fact disputes cannot be resolved on summary judgment” but instead should be decided by a jury, the appeals court wrote in its ruling.
Gregory Lattimer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, disagreed with the court’s decision to only revive Matthews’ claims, saying by email that “we all disagree with the circuit court’s decision and this fight for human rights and dignity is far from over.”
The defendants’ attorneys didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.
The officer who killed Brown wasn’t charged and later resigned.