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ADA Anglemeyer v. Ammons, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 2828, 2024 WL 464016 (3rd Cir. February 7, 2024) (Porter, C.J.).

Policing can be rough business. But the Constitution requires police to use reasonable restraint, even when force may be necessary. Here, four family members who were not suspected of any wrongdoing suffered injuries at the hands of certain officers executing a pre-dawn, no-knock raid. The injured family members sued the officers for excessive use of force. The District Court determined the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. We will reverse.

We use a two-pronged analysis to evaluate qualified immunity claims. Spady v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist., 800 F.3d 633, 637 (3d Cir. 2015). “First, [we] must decide ‘whether the facts that a plaintiff has . . . shown make out a violation of a constitutional right.’ And second, [we] must determine ‘whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s alleged misconduct.'” Id. (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232, 129 S. Ct. 808, 172 L. Ed. 2d 565 (2009)). The officers bear the burden of persuasion under each prong. Mack, 63 F.4th at 227.

The right to be free from the use of excessive force has been recognized under the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right of citizens “to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable . . . seizures.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1989); see Jefferson, 21 F.4th at 78.

There is no dispute that Officer Painter struck Ada with his shield after she stepped outside of her bedroom in her nightgown. Giving weight to Ada’s testimony, Officer Painter could not reasonably believe that Ada posed an immediate threat to his or his fellow officers’ safety, particularly in light of Ada’s age and stature.

A reasonable factfinder could also conclude that Officer Painter failed to give prior instructions or warnings before striking Ada, affording her no opportunity to comply.

Viewing these facts in the totality, a jury could find that there was no need for any force against Ada, making Officer Painter’s conduct toward Ada objectively unreasonable. See Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483, 497 (3d Cir. 2006) (finding unconstitutional excessive force where officers tackled plaintiff in his own home, even though plaintiff was unarmed, cooperative, and not resisting arrest or attempting to flee); Jacobs v. Cumberland Cnty., 8 F.4th 187, 195-96 (3d Cir. 2021) (finding that the officer used unconstitutional excessive force in striking an unarmed, compliant, and non-threatening individual).

A reasonable factfinder could also conclude that Officer Benson’s force was objectively unreasonable. Based on Richard’s testimony, he was plainly unarmed and cooperative, following Officer Benson’s flashlight with his eyes before Officer Benson gratuitously struck him.

Weighing the evidence in favor of Jeffrey, a reasonable jury also could conclude that the officers’ force was objectively unreasonable. Like his mother and father, Jeffrey was unarmed and not suspected of any wrongdoing. Jeffrey also had no time to comply with Officer McGarvey’s command to get down before Officer McGarvey struck him with his shield. Once Jeffrey was zip-tied, the officers could not have reasonably believed that Jeffrey posed any threat, and there is no indication that he was resisting the officers’ restraints. So a jury could find that an officer stepping on Jeffrey’s neck, yanking him up by his zip-ties instead of aiding him to his feet, and punching him—all while Jeffery was bound and defenseless— rises to objectively unreasonably conduct. See Couden, 446 F.3d at 497; Jacobs, 8 F.4th at 195-96; Smith, 293 F.3d at 649.

Finally, giving weight to Joseph’s testimony, a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Wysocky engaged in objectively unreasonable conduct when he picked up Joseph by his zip-tied arms and dropped him to the floor.

Here, all four plaintiffs had the right to be free from serious bodily harm as individuals who were plainly unarmed, substantially outnumbered by law enforcement, cooperative, not suspected of wrongdoing, and in their own home.

The plaintiffs were not only plainly unarmed, substantially outnumbered, cooperative, and in their own home, but they were not suspected of any wrongdoing or facing arrest. Accordingly, any reasonable officer in our case would have known that the officers’ force was unlawful under this set of facts.

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Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to each plaintiff, a reasonable jury could find that the officer who harmed each plaintiff used objectively unreasonable force. At the time of the officers’ conduct, it was clearly established that it was unlawful for the officers to inflict serious bodily harm on individuals who were plainly unarmed, substantially outnumbered by law enforcement, cooperative, not suspected of wrongdoing, and in their own home. We will therefore reverse the District Court’s order granting summary judgment to the officers.