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On March 16, 2019, Officers Garcia and Domer separately responded to a call concerning a disturbance at Los Cucos Mexican Restaurant in Katy, Texas. Garcia and Domer pursued two vehicles containing individuals involved in the disturbance. Upon locating the vehicles, observing two individuals acting suspiciously, and smelling marijuana, Garcia and Domer detained those two people. During this detention, Garcia began communicating with Donna McNeal, who was standing nearby, between the open driver’s door and the driver’s seat of a parked white SUV while another individual sat in the driver’s seat. The SUV was parked perpendicular to a second vehicle, a red sedan, with the SUV driver’s side door adjacent to the sedan’s right rear bumper. Owing to the relative position of the vehicles, the encounter took place in close quarters. During the confrontation, McNeal, in a raised tone, stated “You better leave me the f—alone. Leave me alone. You don’t know nothing about me.”
Officer Garcia repeatedly asked McNeal to calm down, to which she replied, “I don’t have to calm down. McNeal repeatedly yelled at Garcia, demanding that he not touch her. Garcia also implored McNeal to not “turn this into a bigger problem.” Subsequently, Garcia calmly asked McNeal multiple times if she was at Los Cucos. Garcia then reframed the question, asking what was “going on at Los Cucos.” McNeal responded, beckoning and looking at someone off-camera, “that motherf— tried to make us pay for s— we didn’t get. McNeal, Garcia, and the unnamed driver then spoke over one another, though McNeal can be heard stating, repeatedly, that she was not “with them”—presumably referencing the other individuals detained—and thus Garcia had no business talking to her.
After McNeal reiterated her demand that Garcia not talk to her, she slowly began to turn away from Garcia and towards the driver, who was sitting mere inches from her. In response, Garcia reached out and grabbed McNeal’s right forearm and attempted to place handcuffs on her. McNeal intercepted the handcuffs, holding them in her right hand, and tried to wriggle her arm free, though Garcia appears to have pulled her closer to his person. McNeal alleges that at this point, “Garcia grabbed Ms. McNeal and threw her to the ground.” While officers argue that McNeal fell on her own accord, the video footage is not conclusive on this point. Thus, for the purposes of summary judgment review, we presume that Garcia threw McNeal to the ground, causing her to hit her head on the sedan’s bumper before her elbow broke her fall on the ground. As Garcia grabbed at McNeal, Domer—who to this point had stood at the back of the SUV detaining another individual—lurched towards McNeal with his arm out, seemingly trying to break her fall. Upon impact, McNeal exclaimed “Oh sh—!”
Once on the ground, McNeal reached for her head and yelled “Oh my G—!” With McNeal on the ground, Domer tried to grab her wrists, place her arms behind her back, and handcuff her. As McNeal again resisted being handcuffed by flexing her biceps and preventing her arms from being placed behind her, Domer took both of McNeal’s arms over her head, dragging her on the ground toward the back of the SUV. Once she was clear of the car, Domer stopped dragging her and again attempted to handcuff her. In response, McNeal did not resist, stating only that she would put her arms back behind her and imploring Domer to not “squish” or twist her arms.
With McNeal face-down on the ground, Domer secured her by handcuffing her with her arms behind her, then helping her off the ground. Now on her feet, McNeal again disavowed a relationship with the individuals detained and yelled at the officers not to touch her. Garcia then escorted McNeal to the back of his police cruiser. After speaking with McNeal—who declined Garcia’s offer to secure medical assistance—other detained individuals, officers on the scene, and members of McNeal’s family over the course of several minutes, Garcia released McNeal. No charges were filed against McNeal.
McNeal filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Domer, Officer Garcia, and the City of Katy. The district court granted summary judgement to the officers and city. The 5th affirmed.
A. Officers Domer and Garcia
McNeal appeals the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Domer and Garcia. We affirm, because the officer’s actions did not violate clearly established law.
The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. See SCOTUS Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). Qualified immunity includes two inquiries. The first question is whether the officer violated a statutory or constitutional right. The second question is whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct.
To prevail on an excessive force claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) injury, (2) which resulted directly and only from a use of force that was clearly excessive, and (3) the excessiveness of which was clearly unreasonable. See Tarver. Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it. See SCOTUS Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Thus, a reasonable amount of force may be used to detain a subject even if that subject is not being arrested.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Connor guides the reasonableness inquiry, pointing us to several factors: The severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
McNeal argues that Officers Garcia and Domer both used excessive force in violation of clearly established law during their interaction with her. First, she argues that Officer Garcia used excessive force when he intentionally grabbed and jerked Ms. McNeal towards the vehicle, causing her head to strike against a car. Further, she argues that Officer Domer used excessive force when he dragged her by both arms out from between the two vehicles. Specifically, McNeal argues that both uses of force were unconstitutional because any use of force would have been unconstitutional in these circumstances because “there was no filed criminal complaint” and McNeal was not under arrest.
In Solis, this Court held that it was not objectively unreasonable for officers to restrain an individual’s arms and force her to the ground in a “takedown” maneuver to handcuff her because the individual was belligerent prior to her arrest for public intoxication and resisted arrest— albeit mildly—by struggling against the officers as they tried to grab her arms. While the Court acknowledged that the individual did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, it reasoned that the officers’ action could still be perceived as reasonable. Accordingly, the Court held that even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Solis, we cannot say that the officers violated her constitutional right to be free from excessive force.
Solis and other similar precedents support the district court’s determination that the force Garcia and Domer deployed in this case did not clearly violate McNeal’s Fourth Amendment rights. See Craig (holding it was not objectively unreasonable for an officer to push an arrestee to the ground while maintaining a hold on his left arm and releasing it as she slowly descends to the ground following the arrestee’s vocal but non-physical belligerence).
Moreover, upon review of both officers’ body camera footage, we conclude that no reasonable juror could conclude that either officer deployed excessive force against McNeal.
McNeal also appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment against the City of Katy. Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Monell, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), municipalities can be held liable for violating a person’s constitutional rights under § 1983.
We need not discuss Monell’s elements let alone whether McNeal established them, however: without a predicate constitutional violation, there can be no Monell liability. See Loftin. Because we hold that McNeal has failed to establish any constitutional violation, the associated Monell claims must also fail.