Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 14, 2019


Page 1


Ninth Circuit:

Woman’s Action for Wrongful Handcuffing by Police Fails


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A woman who was handcuffed by police during an early-morning investigative stop after they spotted what they mistakenly thought was a baggie of cocaine on the pavement may not proceed on her civil rights action against the officers, under a decision yesterday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The memorandum opinion reverses an order denying summary judgement to two members of the police force in Davis, a city in Sacramento County.

Officers Jeff Vignau and Derek Russell, on patrol shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2013, spotted Lasonja Porter on her hands and knees next to a parked SUV. Suspecting that she was attempting to steal the vehicle, they made an investigative stop pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 opinion in Terry v. Ohio.

When they saw the object they thought was a baggie of cocaine, Porter was handcuffed.

As it turned out, she owned the SUV. She stopped the vehicle when she ran over something; alighted from it to determine if a tire had been damaged; accidentally dropped the key to her anti-theft device; and was down on the ground looking for it.

The object near her on the pavement was a discarded white Playtex glove.

District Court Decision

District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the Eastern District of California on Jan. 25, 2018 granted summary judgment to defendants on all causes of action except one alleging a Fourth Amendment violation based on use of the handcuffs. Mueller explained:

“Here, a reasonable juror could conclude handcuffing plaintiff was unreasonable. The officers outnumbered plaintiff; they cuffed her immediately, without asking if she had any weapons and without seeing any; they cuffed her despite her total compliance with their orders, and despite her warning that she had injured wrists; and they cuffed her without any factual basis for believing she posed a danger. The officers purport to have handcuffed plaintiff as a precaution in the theoretical event she possessed burglary tools…, yet the nexus between the facts of record and this justification is thin at best.”

Mueller continued:

“That the officers ‘believed’ burglaries were common in the area, without support, and “believed” burglars generally tend to carry tools and weapons, does not take the reasonableness question beyond dispute….Here, the officers never asked plaintiff about weapons and never patted her down once the handcuffs were applied. A reasonable juror could find plaintiff posed no danger, that no facts supported a reasonable belief that she might be armed, and that the officers’ justifications are purely post hoc. Triable issues remain on this question.”

Mueller Reversed

Reversing, a three-judge panel said that Mueller “erred in holding that a reasonable juror could conclude that handcuffing her was unreasonable.”

The opinion explains:

“The court had already found that the detention was justified, and that no excessive force was employed. The court was correct in determining that handcuffing is not part of a routine Terry stop, but that is only relevant to a determination of whether or not the act of handcuffing transformed a Terry stop into an arrest without probable cause, not whether the Terry stop itself was unreasonable.”

Yesterday’s opinion notes that Porter had not contended that the handcuffing had transformed the Terry stop into an arrests, so any such argument had been forfeited.

The case is Porter v. Vignau, 18-15332.


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