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Brothers Win Further Proceedings in Police Excessive Force Claim

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on Ohio Federal District Court erred in finding a plaintiff voluntarily assented to a Release-dismissal Agreement that barred a lawsuit against defendants for excessive force.  The Court further held it was improper to exclude a Taser report as evidence at trial.

Brothers Derek and Brian Patterson were involved in the early morning hours of May 27-28, 2006, in an altercation with Akron City Police.  The facts were hotly disputed.  Derek ultimately agreed to plead no contest to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.  Brain was charged with a felony assault on a police officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest.  He pled no-contest on the misdemeanor and agreed to a civil release related to the officer’s actions for dismissal of the felony.

The Brothers sued The City of Akron and several police officers.  The district court found the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, but it granted them summary judgment based on Brian’s release dismissal when entering his plea.  Brian’s case proceeded to trial.

The Sixth Circuit noted that in Town of Newton v. Rumery, 480 U.S. 386 (1987), the court “held that release-dismissal agreements, by which an accused agrees not to bring a §1983 action in exchange for the dismissal of criminal charges, are not per se valid.

To be valid, they must meet certain criteria:  (1) the agreement was voluntary;  (2) there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct; and (3) enforcement of the agreement will not adversely affect relevant public interests.  The burden to establish these factors lies with the defendants in a civil action.  The Sixth Circuit found genuine issues of fact exist as to whether Brian’s assent to the Release-Dismissal Agreement was voluntary.  It further found the district court improperly dismissed his argument on prosecutorial misconduct based on the failure to require Derek to enter into such an agreement. Finally, it found the district court improperly placed the burden on Brian on the public interest factor.  In sum, the district court erred in granting summary judgment against Brian.

The Court then turned to the district court’s determination that one of the officers Taser Report was inadmissible at trial.  It based that decision on grounds there was no foundation to verify or interpret the report.  The defendants conceded at trial that the report was authentic, and The Sixth Circuit held nothing more was required to admit it as evidence.  It further found the error was not harmless, for the report proved Derek’s position that the officer tased him five times over a short period;  twenty four seconds according to the report.  Since this supports his testimony and contradicted the officer, the error was not harmless and a new trial was ordered.  See:  Patterson v. City of Akron, Ohio, No. 13-4321 (6th Cir. 2015).

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Related legal case

Patterson v. City of Akron