Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
Smashed in the face
La Mesa woman cleared to sue police officer for 4th Amendment violation, excessive force
La Mesa resident Drendolyn Sims has the right to sue La Mesa Police officer Mike Stanton over injuries suffered as a result of Stanton’s kicking in a gate on her property and striking her in the head, an appeals court ruled yesterday.
Stanton was responding to a call in La Mesa, “a high-crime neighborhood near San Diego,” reports Courthouse News Service, regarding an “unknown disturbance . . . involving a baseball bat.”
While Stanton and his partner observed nothing unusual upon arriving at the scene, they did notice Nicholas Patrick and two other men walking in the street. The two men walked into a nearby apartment complex, but Patrick took off in another direction. Though he was not in possession of a baseball bat, he ignored officers’ orders to stop and entered the front yard of another property, closing the gate behind him.
Stanton then gave pursuit and kicked in the gate, unaware that Sims, the homeowner, was standing behind it. She was rendered “temporarily unconscious, or at least incoherent,” due to the officer’s blow.
After U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed a suit by Sims claiming illegal search and excessive force, a three judge 9th District Court of Appeals panel reversed the ruling yesterday, finding that Stanton had no justifiable reason to kick in Sims’ gate.
“The warrantless intrusion is particularly egregious in this case because Stanton violated the Fourth Amendment rights of an uninvolved person, Sims," wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt. “Stanton could have knocked on the door and asked Sims for permission to enter and speak with, or arrest, Patrick. Knocking on the door would still not have justified a warrantless entry, but at the very least, with the warning of a knock, Sims might have been able to move away from behind the gate before Stanton kicked it open. In any event, the record before us does not reveal any 'rare' circumstances that would call for an exception to the rule that 'where the underlying offense is only a misdemeanor, law enforcement must yield to the Fourth Amendment.'”