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Justices reject chokehold case brought by retired police officer

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal by a retired police officer who suffered injuries after he was put in a chokehold and forcibly arrested by three Veterans Affairs (VA) officers.

The court’s denial of the petition from Jose Oliva, who was 70 at the time of the incident, came in an unsigned order without noted dissent.

Oliva’s lawsuit stemmed from a 2016 altercation at the security gate of a VA hospital in El Paso, Texas, where Oliva was scheduled for a dental appointment.

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Video footage shows a confrontation quickly escalate between Oliva and the guards. One guard placed Oliva in a chokehold while the others assisted in apprehending him. Oliva suffered a shoulder injury that would require surgery, and sought treatment for ear and hand pain, as well as difficulty swallowing.

Oliva maintains the altercation was unprovoked. The guards have disputed that account, and lawyers for two guards told The Associated Press that Oliva repeatedly failed to comply with requests to show identification. 

"Of course we are delighted that SCOTUS denied Mr. Oliva’s petition," said Louis Elias Lopez Jr., an attorney for the guards. "Unfortunately, there are no winners. Our client’s went through this case at the trial level, an FBI investigation, review by the DOJ, as well as two appeals before the 5th Circuit and the Supreme Court. The stress of never knowing when it will end or how it will end is tremendous and no victory can erase that kind of strain."

"On the other hand, I am sure Mr. Oliva, no question a patriot and honorable person, walks away unsatisfied with the feeling that justice was not done," he added.

A federal judge in Texas in 2019 said Oliva’s civil rights lawsuit against the guards could move forward. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 5th Circuit reversed that ruling, prompting Oliva’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

Patrick Jaicomo, an attorney at the libertarian Institute for Justice who represented Oliva, expressed disappointment in the justices’ move on Monday.

“Today’s decision not to hear Oliva v. Nivar deals a huge blow to police accountability,” he said.