Qualified immunity granted to officers accused of using excessive force to make arrest


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On September 18, 2017, a 911 caller reported to the Mandeville Police Department that a really intoxicated driver was all over the road. The caller expressed concern that the driver would cause a severe accident and described the situation as very stressful. Shortly thereafter, an officer of the Mandeville Police Department observed the reported vehicle crossing the fog lines on the side of the road and striking a curb. The officer pulled over the vehicle, which was driven by Amber Scott. Scott’s minor children were also in the vehicle.

The following events were captured on video and audio recordings. After being pulled over, Scott told the officer that she had recently been in an accident, which caused her car to pull to the right. Scott stated that she had not consumed any alcohol and was not on any medication. A second officer to arrive, Officer Guillory of the Mandeville Police Department, conducted a series of field sobriety tests on Scott. As a result of the tests, Officer Guillory concluded that she was not under the influence of alcohol. The first officer to the scene informed Officer Guillory that he had observed Scott strike the curb with her vehicle. Officer Guillory then contacted Officer Huff of the Causeway Police Department, a drug recognition expert, and requested that he perform additional testing on Scott.

Before Officer Huff’s arrival, Scott informed two officers that she had recently undergone shoulder and neck surgery and that she was still in a lot of pain from the injury. At one point, the recordings show Officer Guillory informing the 911 caller that he had done field sobriety on her and if she’s impaired, it’s not alcohol. The caller (and his companion) then stated that “she was everywhere,” “it was . . . scary,” and inquired if the driver was even “alert” because “it was like she was falling asleep.”

Officer Huff then arrived at the scene. The parties dispute whether Huff performed drug recognition tests, but the audio recordings show that Officer Huff discussed results with Officer Guillory and stated that she had a lack of convergence and a fast clock. The conversation evinces that the officers concluded Scott was likely impaired, although not from alcohol.

The officers proceeded to arrest Scott. Officer Guillory moved Scott’s arms behind her back, at which point Scott began to pull away from the officers. Officer Guillory ordered Scott to “stop turning” four times. Scott exclaimed “stop moving my arm like that . . . I had surgery and it’s f_____ up.” Scott then begged the officers “please don’t touch my arm.” After the officers continued to handcuff her, Scott repeatedly shouted, “oh my god,” sounding distressed and in pain. The video shows Officer Guillory and Officer Huff twisting Scott’s right arm behind her back, lifting the twisted arm, and bending Scott over on her vehicle in order to place handcuffs on her.

The officer report states that Scott was arrested for improper lane usage in violation of La. R.S. § 32:79 and for driving while intoxicated with child endangerment in violation of La. R.S. § 14:98(B). After the arrest, Scott admitted to taking both Xanax and Hydrocodone earlier that day.

Scott sued alleging claims of false arrest and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgement. The 5th affirmed.


Both Officer Guillory and Officer Huff raised a qualified immunity defense to Scott’s § 1983 claims. The qualified immunity inquiry includes two parts. In the first we ask whether the officer’s alleged conduct has violated a federal right; in the second we ask whether the right in question was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation, such that the officer was on notice of the unlawfulness of his or her conduct. The two steps of the qualified immunity inquiry may be performed in any order.

A. False Arrest

Scott first appeals the summary judgment against her § 1983 false arrest claim. A false arrest occurs, and an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights are violated, when an officer conducts an arrest without probable cause. See Mangieri. To prevail on her §1983 false arrest claim, Scott must show that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest her. See Haggerty.

Probable cause exists when the totality of the facts and circumstances within a police officer’s knowledge at the moment of arrest are sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Scott, we conclude that a reasonable person could have concluded there was a fair probability that Scott had been driving while intoxicated, and thus, no false arrest occurred.

Scott does not contest the following facts, which are confirmed by the video and audio evidence: (1) A witness reported to the police that Scott was driving in a dangerous manner; (2) there is video footage of Scott’s car swerving out of the lane and recorded audio of the officers noting the swerve; and (3) Officer Guillory and Officer Huff could not conclusively determine that she had not taken drugs. Those facts alone are sufficient to give rise to probable cause that Scott was driving while intoxicated.

Consequently, we affirm the summary judgment on Scott’s § 1983 false arrest claim. Because we find there to have been probable cause to arrest Scott, there is no need to reach the second step of the qualified immunity analysis.

B. Excessive Force

To prevail on her excessive force claim, Scott 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.

We conclude that the officers’ use of force was not clearly unreasonable. Under SCOTUS Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), relevant factors include the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether she is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

Here, Scott was being arrested for driving under the influence, which is a serious crime under Graham. See Griggs. Although there is no evidence that Scott posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, the officers’ use of force was relatively minimal. Handcuffing is a generally accepted technique to conduct an arrest. Additionally, minor, incidental injuries that occur in connection with the use of handcuffs to effectuate an arrest do not give rise to a constitutional claim for excessive force. See Freeman.

Citing Johnson, Scott contends that a standard police technique becomes excessive if the surrounding circumstances would put a reasonable officer on notice that an arrestee was particularly susceptible to injury from the standard maneuver.

But this court’s decision in Windham shows that this is not such a case. In Windham, the plaintiff alleged that a field sobriety test injured him by aggravating a preexisting condition in his neck. The plaintiff expressed doubts to the officer as to his ability to complete the field sobriety tests and told the officer that it hurt to lift his head up this high and that he did not have any head injuries, but that his neck hurt. This court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that the officers should have been on notice that his neck condition was such that he would suffer injury if the officer administered the test.

Officer Guillory was performing a routine handcuffing technique when Scott began to pull away from his grasp as he repeatedly instructed her to stop turning away from him. The officers then increased their use of force by lifting Scott’s twisted right arm and bending her over the police car. This limited use of force was a response to Scott’s perceived resistance and was not clearly unreasonable under the circumstances.

Like the officers in Windham, Officer Huff and Officer Guillory were not on notice that Scott would suffer injury from their handcuffing procedure. Although Scott informed other officers on the scene that she had recently undergone surgery, it is far from obvious that the officers would be on notice that Scott would be injured if they handcuffed her because of that surgery. Scott had kept her hands above her head for a significant amount of time prior to the arrest and had not shown any visible signs of injury before the arrest. The officers’ first notice that Scott might become injured by the standard handcuffing procedure came when they began to handcuff Scott, as she was turning away from Officer Guillory’s attempt to restrain her. The officer’s limited use of force (in such a short time frame) to restrain Scott and place her in handcuffs as a response to Scott’s perceived resistance does not amount to excessive force.

Because we conclude that Scott’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated, we need not reach the second step of the qualified immunity analysis. We therefore affirm the summary judgment on the § 1983 excessive force claim.