Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Court of Appeal:
Arrestee Shot in Buttock While Resisting Officers May Seek Damages
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
An individual who was shot in the buttock while struggling with police officers attempting to restrain him and who was later convicted of resisting arrest was not barred by reason of his conviction from filing a civil complaint against the officer , the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In partially reversing the Third District Court of Appeal, the state’s high court held that Steven Yount’s claim based on the officer’s use of deadly force was not an improper collateral attack on his conviction.
Sacramento police officers arrested Yount on suspicion of drunk driving. Even after applying handcuffs and leg restraints, Yount continued to resist the officers’ attempts to transport him to jail.
One officer reached for his Taser gun, but mistakenly pulled out and discharged his pistol into Yount’s buttock instead.
Yount later pleaded no contest to violating Penal Code Sec. 148, for resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer in the performance of the officer’s duties, and filed suit against the officer for excessive force and battery.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard Kent Park determined that Yount’s claims necessarily implied the invalidity of his criminal conviction and were therefore barred. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the possibility that the officer’s alleged use of excessive force may have been temporally distinct from the acts that formed the basis of Yount’s no contest plea.
Writing for the state Supreme Court, Justice Marvin R. Baxter explained that pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey (1994) 512 U.S. 477, a claim for damages is not cognizable if a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his criminal conviction.
Noting that the record indicated Yount was kicking, spitting, and refusing to cooperate with the officers just prior to the shooting, Baxter reasoned under those circumstances, the officer was justified in responding with reasonable force.
Thus, to the extent that Yount claimed the officers had no justification to employ any force, Yount’s claims contradicted the events that resulted in his conviction, Baxter wrote. Yount’s conviction established his culpability and any claim inconsistent with even a portion of that conviction would be barred because it would necessarily imply the invalidity of that part of the conviction, Baxter continued.
However, Baxter wrote, because Yount’s resistance, as evidenced by his criminal conviction, did not justify the use of deadly force, Yount’s claim that the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified was not barred.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Ming W. Chin, Carlos R. Moreno, and Carol A. Corrigan joined Baxter in his opinion.
Justice separately conclesurred, but argued that Baxter’s discussion was overly broad and contained “unnecessary dicta” which could cause state courts to apply Heck differently than the federal courts, thereby encouraging forum shopping and creating conflicts that the high court will have to resolve.
Brian T. Dunn of the Cochran Firm represented Yount before the Supreme Court, and Sacramento Deputy City Attorney Matthew D. Ruyak represented the city.
The case is Yount v. City of Sacramento, 08 S.O.S. 2918.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company