SLLC Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Pretrial Detainee Excessive Force Case

Imagine having to operate two jails:  one for pretrial detainees and one for post-conviction detainees.  This could be the practical effect of Kingsley v. Hendrickson, depending on how the Supreme Court rules.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which IMLA joined, arguing that the same or similar standard should apply to excessive force claims brought by pretrial detainees and post-conviction detainees to avoid this result.

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages for constitutional violations.  The constitutional standard for excessive force depends on whether an arrestee, a pretrial detainee, or a post-conviction detainees brings the claim.  The Court has never specified the standard for determining what amount of force used against a pretrial detainee is excessive.  The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment applies to post-conviction detainees while the Fourth Amendment’s “objectively unreasonable” standard, which is less deferential to law enforcement, applies to arrestees.

The SLLC amicus brief argues that the same standard regarding the use of force should apply to both pretrial detainees and post-conviction detainees.  Jails generally commingle these two categories of inmates, and the extremely high turnover rate of jails leaves officers little time to become familiar with each individual.  Pretrial detainees are often more dangerous than the post-conviction detainees housed in jails because post-conviction detainees in jails generally are serving time for relatively minor offenses whereas pretrial detainees are awaiting trial for all manner of offenses, including serious and violent crimes.  The brief also argues that the Eighth Amendment standard strikes the right balance between protecting officers acting in good faith and safeguarding an inmate’s right to challenge unlawful actions.

In this case pretrial detainee Michael Kingsley alleges two police officers used excessive force against him when they transferred him to a different cell so they could remove a piece of paper covering the light over his bed which he refused to remove.  In the process, his feet smacked against the bedframe, an officer kneed him in the back, he was tasered so his handcuffs could be removed, and he claims an officer smashed his head against the concrete bunk.

Aaron Streett, Joshua Davis, J. Mark Little, and Shane Pennington, Baker Botts wrote the SLLC brief which was joined by the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association joined the brief.