CA5: Witness to police shooting handcuffed and detained for 2 hours stated 4A claim for relief

Plaintiff’s father was acting erratic and was armed, and the police were called. Plaintiff was trying to defuse the situation. The SWAT team showed up, and, after a brief stand-off plaintiff’s father was shot while she was standing next to him. She was grabbed by the police, handcuffed, and detained for two hours. She stated a claim for an unreasonable detention. Two other circuits have held that detention of witnesses for over 90 minutes was unreasonable. She also alleged sufficient excessive force, and the district court was clearly erroneous in concluding otherwise. Lincoln v. Turner, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 21652 (5th Cir. Oct. 31, 2017):

As in Lidster, this case brings to us a matter of significant public concern. And the second factor may weigh even more in favor of the police here—Erin was present at the crime scene, and in fact was the only person inside the house with her father. Through the eyes of a reasonable police officer, she was likely to possess helpful information, and it was reasonable to seek it, at least to confirm her identity and contact information. Accepting this, the facts alleged here went beyond the bounds of a reasonable detention. This was not the type of “minimally intrusive” stop authorized by Lidster. Instead, a distressed young woman was handcuffed and left in the back of a police car for almost two hours. The stop provoked significant “anxiety and alarm,” and lasted much longer than necessary to obtain information.

Confronting a similar question, two circuits agree that detaining police cannot detain a person for a significant period of time solely because she witnessed a police shooting. In Walker, the Tenth Circuit concluded that “a ninety minute detention for this purpose [of obtaining names, addresses, and voluntary statements from witnesses] was unreasonable.” In Maxwell, the Ninth Circuit similarly found that law enforcement officers could not “detain, separate, and interrogate the [witnesses] for hours” solely as witnesses. In so holding, both courts noted that “[e]ven in the Terry stop context—which involves a suspicion of criminal activity that is absent here—the Supreme Court has never endorsed a detention longer than 90 minutes.”

As our sister circuits noted, “[w]hat little authority exists on [the] question [of witness detention], suggests that police have less authority to detain those who have witnessed a crime for investigatory purposes than to detain criminal suspects.” We agree, and find that Erin has sufficiently pled an unreasonable seizure even under the Brown v. Texas balancing test. Erin has alleged a detention that would have been unreasonable if she were a suspect.

. . .

Finally, Erin has sufficiently pled that the force used by Turner was objectively unreasonable. “To ‘gaug[e] the objective reasonableness of the force used by a law enforcement officer, we must balance the amount of force used against the need for force.’ This balancing test ‘requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case.'” Given Erin’s allegations that she did not “fight, struggle or resist in any way” and “questioned why she was being taken into custody,” Turner’s alleged force was excessive. (footnotes omitted)

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