Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Decision in Favor of GBB Client on Excessive Force Claim

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On October 15, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of GBB’s client, Brittany Karels, on her claim of excessive force against Big Lake, Minnesota police officer Gabriel Storz.

Karels rented a room in the basement of a home owned by friends in Big Lake. Early in the morning on March 28, 2015, she returned home and got into an argument with one of the homeowners, whose husband called police. Storz and Big Lake officer Samuel Norlin responded to the call. Despite complying with the officers’ commands, Storz aggressively poked Karels in the collarbone, after which she twice called 911 to request a supervisor, but none was available. The 911 dispatcher, however, contacted Storz and Norlin and advised that Karels kept calling 911 and asking whether the officers planned to arrest Karels. Following the dispatcher’s call, Storz told Karels that she was under arrest; he then twisted her arm behind her back and body-slammed her onto concrete steps, fracturing her arm in multiple places and impinging the ulnar nerve.

Karels brought an excessive-force claim against Storz in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. Storz asked the Court to dismiss the case, arguing that he had not violated Karels’ constitutional rights and, even if he had, those rights were not clearly established in March 2015, entitling him to “qualified immunity.” GBB attorneys argued in response that a well-established line of cases made clear that force was least justified against someone like Karels, who was not violent or attempting to flee. United States District Judge David S. Doty agreed and denied Storz’s request for dismissal in June 2017, concluding that a jury could find Storz violated Karels’s clearly-established rights. Storz appealed.

On October 15, 2018, the Eighth Circuit agreed with Judge Doty and affirmed his order. Recognizing the authority in our Circuit, the Court of Appeals concluded that “every reasonable officer would have understood that he could not forcefully take down Karels – a nonviolent, nonthreatening misdemeanant who was not actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee – in the allegedly violent and uncontrolled manner that Storz did.” The opinion can be read here.