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Appeal for Summary Judgment Upheld for Qualified Immunity

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Georgia Federal District Court’s order granting dismissal of a lawsuit alleging use of excessive force on a prisoner.

On January 28, 2007, Reginald Fennell was arrested for several misdemeanor charges. As he was being taken to the Bartow County Jail by Deputy Kevin Hubbard, he was very combative in the patrol car. When he arrived at the jail, he was still uncooperative and combative in a pat-down room.

Fennell verbally abused guards and threatened to come after Hubbard at his home. A guard asked Fennell several times to face the wall; when he kept turning around, guard Huskey physically turned him back to the wall. Fennell grabbed Huskey’s arm, twisted it and refused to let go.

Guards in the room wrestled Fennell to the ground. A struggle to free Huskey’s arm failed. Seeing the struggle, guard Gilstrap entered the room and tried to kick Fennell’s arm to free Huskey. Instead, his kick struck Fennell in the face, causing orbital, septal and nasal fractures.

Fennell filed a suit alleging violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Gilstrap filed a motion for summary judgment claiming qualified immunity. The district court granted the summary judgment motion, holding the kick, which the court called a “shock of the system,” was an acceptable, good faith use of force to maintain or restore discipline in a difficult situation. Video surveillance of this incident supported the guard’s statement. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order. See Fennel v. Gilstrap, USDC D.C. No 07-00052 CV-HCM-4 (11th Cir 2009).

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Related legal case

Fennel v. Gilstrap,