Plaintiff was arrested and detained for three weeks without probable cause. Taking his claims as true at this point, he stated a claim. Bell v. Neukirch, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 33920 (8th Cir. Oct. 28, 2020):
About seven minutes after a black juvenile male with a gun fled from police in Kansas City, Missouri, officers arrested Tyree Bell a mile away from the scene. Bell and the suspect shared only generic characteristics in common: black, juvenile, and male. Bell, however, had several characteristics distinct from the suspect: he was taller than the suspect; had distinguishable hair from the suspect; and wore shorts, shoes, and socks that differed from those donned by the suspect. These distinctions are depicted on a police video recording that the arresting officers reviewed. Three weeks later, with Bell still in custody, a detective reviewed the video and concluded that Bell was not the offender. Authorities promptly released Bell and dismissed all charges. Bell then sued the arresting officers, alleging that they seized him without probable cause. He also raised claims against the detective and a sergeant who authorized the detention, and he named the sergeant, the police chief, and members of the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City as defendants in their official capacities based on alleged failures to train and supervise the arresting officers.
The district court, describing it as a “difficult case,” ruled that the arresting officers were entitled to qualified immunity, because a reasonable officer could have believed that there was probable cause to arrest Bell. Bell v. Neukirch, 376 F. Supp. 3d 989, 1004 (W.D. Mo. 2019). We conclude, however, that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Bell, would support a finding that the arresting officers violated Bell’s clearly established right to be free from an unreasonable seizure without probable cause under the circumstances. We therefore reverse the dismissal of the claims against those officers. We affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the other defendants.
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Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Bell, it was clearly established at the time of Bell’s warrantless arrest that no reasonable officer in the position of Officers Munyan and Neukirch could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest Bell based on the plainly exculpatory evidence available to them. Bell wore different shorts and socks than the suspect wore at the scene. His height varied by five inches from Munyan’s real-time description of the suspect. Bell did not exhibit signs of exertion that would be expected of a suspect who ran a mile in seven minutes on a warm afternoon. Given the glaring differences, there was not arguable probable cause to believe that Bell was the fleeing suspect. Bell’s right to be free from an arrest and detention under the circumstances was clearly established. It is an obvious case of insufficient probable cause.
The officers assert that they acted reasonably because they reviewed the video recording of the suspect multiple times before confirming that Bell should be arrested. There is a factual dispute over how thoroughly they reviewed the video. Given Officer Munyan’s averment that he could not tell whether the suspect’s shorts included a broad white stripe on the side, a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Munyan did not reasonably consider the video. But even assuming that the officers collectively watched the video eight times as they claim, it should have been obvious to any reasonable officer that Bell’s shorts and socks were different from the suspect’s shorts and socks at the scene. Qualified immunity requires more than subjective good faith; it requires objectively reasonable official conduct. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815-16 (1982). Simply scanning a video does not make conduct objectively reasonable if an officer ignores or overlooks plainly exculpatory evidence. Baptiste, 147 F.3d at 1259-60. Qualified immunity does not protect the “plainly incompetent,” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). An officer who repeatedly watched the video and failed to take note of the substantial discrepancies between Bell and the suspect demonstrates less diligence that what is expected of competent police officers about to limit someone’s liberty by arrest.