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When is Force Excessive? When is Indifference Deliberate?

A case currently working its way through the federal court system touches on important questions regarding police misconduct and an individual’s civil rights under the Constitution. In the case of Jefferey Hodge v. Versus Village of Southampton, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently ruled on the defendant’s motions for summary judgment, dismissing some claims while allowing others to go trial. The injured plaintiff may yet have his day in court regarding his civil rights claim.

The plaintiff, Jefferey Hodge, filed a lawsuit against the Village of Southampton on Long Island as well as the police officer who stopped him for a moving violation in 2008. Hodge was pulled over for driving with a cracked windshield and using a cell phone while driving. When ordered to produce his license and registration, Hodge informed the officer that he had a prosthetic leg and would need to place his leg outside the door in order to retrieve his wallet. While his leg was outside the door, it was slammed shut on his prosthesis, causing a great deal of pain to Hodge, who eventually needed to have his prosthetic reshaped in order to accommodate the swelling on his stump that the injury caused.

Hodge sued under section 1983, a federal statute allowing a civil lawsuit for a deprivation of constitutional rights by a person acting under color of state law. Hodge alleged excessive force by the officer for slamming the car door on his leg, as well as deliberate indifference by other officers at the stationhouse regarding his need for medical attention and care.

The court dismissed Hodge’s claim for deliberate indifference, analyzing it under the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In this context, Hodge would have to prove an element of intent on the part of the officers – that they knew they were risking harm to Hodge but deliberately disregarded that risk.

On the excessive force claim, however, the court held that Hodge did not have to show the officer’s underlying intent or motivation. Force is excessive under the Fourth Amendment if it is objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances. To determine whether the use of force was reasonable, the jury would look at the severity of the crime at issue, the immediate safety threat that the suspect posed, and whether or not the suspect was actively resisting arrest. In this instance, whether the police officer intentionally slammed the door on Hodge’s leg or negligently allowed the door to hit him, there is enough of a question to allow the case to go to a jury and let them decide whether excessive force was used.

If you have been subjected to police brutality, excessive force, or other types of police misconduct, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. in New York City for a free consultation regarding your constitutional rights.

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