Supreme Court orders fresh look at police officers' use of excessive force

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a fresh look at a case challenging whether a police officer in Escondido, Calif., used excessive force when responding to a domestic dispute.

In an unsigned opinion, the justices said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals failed to properly analyze whether clearly established law barred Office Robert Craig from stopping Marty Emmons, taking him to the ground and handcuffing him outside his daughter’s apartment in May 2013.

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Emmons had sued Craig and another responding officer, Sgt. Kevin Toth, for allegedly violating his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force.

A district court held the officers had probable cause to arrest Emmons for the misdemeanor offense of resisting and delaying a police officer after he ignored their orders not to close the apartment door and tried to brush past them after leaving the apartment.

Because only Craig had used any force at all, the district court sided with Toth. The court also found that the law did not clearly establish that Craig couldn't use excessive force.

The 9th Circuit, however, revived Emmons's excessive force claims against both Toth and Craig, reversing the lower court's decision and sending the case to trial.

In its ruling Monday, the Supreme Court called the 9th Circuit decision to reinstate the excessive force claim against Toth “erroneous–and quite puzzling in light of the conclusion that only Defendant Craig was involved in the excessive force claim.”

The justices reversed the 9th Circuit ruling against Toth and vacated and remanded its ruling against Craig, ordering the court to go back and analyze whether other officers in similar circumstances have been found by the court to have violated the Fourth Amendment in their use of excessive force.