CA3: Pointing a gun at a two unarmed men was objectively reasonable

Pointing a gun at a two unarmed men was objectively reasonable for § 1983 purposes. There was reasonable suspicion for a stop and the officer felt threatened until he knew all that was going on. Stiegel v. Peters Twp., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 23116 (3d Cir. December 9, 2014) (surveying cases):

Other cases have found excessive force where officers train their guns on compliant adults who pose no threat to the safety of the police. For example, the Seventh Circuit found excessive force where an officer, in the course of executing a search warrant based on a nonviolent crime, “wield[ed] a 9-millimeter submachine gun, which he used to detain various people at the search site.” Baird v. Renbarger, 576 F.3d 340, 342, 344-45 (7th Cir. 2009). Other courts have found excessive force in similar circumstances. See, e.g., Robinson v. Solano Cty., 278 F.3d 1007, 1010, 1014 (9th Cir. 2002) (finding excessive force where two officers pointed guns from point-blank range at the head of individual suspected of a misdemeanor); Baker v. Monroe Twp., 50 F.3d 1186, 1193-94 (3d Cir. 1995) (finding excessive force where police held suspect’s family members, two of whom were minors, on the ground at gunpoint while they searched the alleged suspect’s house); Brown v. City of Milwaukee, 288 F. Supp. 2d 962, 972-73 (E.D. Wisc. 2003) (finding excessive force where police surrounded suspect’s car, pointed multiple guns at her, shouted obscenities, used sensory overload tactics, and injured suspect).

Viewing Stiegel’s claim through the lens of the Graham test, we note first that the government has a strong interest in ensuring that police are not forced to subject themselves to unreasonable danger while carrying out their duties. We use the Graham factors to determine whether the intrusion on Stiegel outweighed that interest in this case. When Collins approached Majcher, he suspected that Majcher may be preparing for a home invasion or suicide. Both of these activities are severe and violent; however, it is unclear whether Collins still suspected the men of home invasion or suicide when he trained his gun on Stiegel. Therefore, the first factor is inconclusive in this instance. However, the second and third Graham factors weigh in favor of using force, as Stiegel and Majcher outnumbered Collins, were both armed with shotguns, and Majcher did not immediately comply with Collins’s request to place his weapon on the ground.

The additional factors described by this Circuit in Sharrar also compel a finding that Collins’s use of force was justified. First, from Collins’s perspective, there was a possibility that Stiegel and Majcher were violent or dangerous, as Collins came across them at night, in a remote location that he associated with criminal activity. Further, Collins did not arrest either suspect, and the entire encounter between Collins and the two men lasted only five to ten minutes. Finally, both Stiegel and Majcher were armed, and they outnumbered Collins.

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