Trump judges keep ruling in favor of police misconduct


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Medical treatment in prisons

Second Circuit Appeals Court Judge Michael Pak, a Trump appointee, wrote a majority opinion dismissing a New York prisoner’s lawsuit over inadequate medical treatment. Devin Darby, imprisoned on Riker’s Island, filed 19 sick call requests and four grievance complaints about painful gum inflammation. Two Riker’s Island dentists saw Darby and failed to treat his condition. Over a year later, Darby was transferred to another facility where a specialist correctly diagnosed and treated a large gum abscess.

Darby filed suit against unspecified prison officials and the two dentists, alleging they “acted with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” However, Pak and fellow judge José Cabranes (Clinton appointee) ruled that Darby only demonstrated a “difference of opinion” with the dentists. Further, they found that Darby must name the Riker’s officials who received his sick call requests—something he is not able to do without discovery, which both the lower court and appellate court did not allow.

Judge Susan Carney, an Obama appointee, dissented (pdf):

In my view, Darby’s complaint states a claim against the Doe Defendants. His allegations evince a serious, escalating, and urgent medical need that he brought to the attention of the Doe Defendants according to the prison’s prescribed procedures, but about which they took no action for months…It may be that discovery would reveal that Darby’s sick calls were responded to—the record does not tell us, but perhaps the needed referral was arranged, but delayed, as the district court speculated. But that speculation is an inference drawn against Darby, and, like the other inferences on which the Majority relies, we are not permitted to rely on it at this stage of the proceedings…

I am concerned that the Majority’s decision affirming the district court’s dismissal of Darby’s complaint may work to immunize the relevant prison officials from liability in Darby’s and in other cases. In my view, the course of events specifically alleged by Darby could—if borne out by evidence—reasonably support a determination that the officials and dentists were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.

Further reading: “The Real Reason Behind the Crisis at Rikers Island,” NYT. “Shit-Smeared Floors and Broken Cell Doors: Inside the Crisis at Rikers Island,” Rolling Stone. “The Real Reason Behind the Crisis at Rikers Island,” Slate.

Qualified Immunity

Two Eighth Circuit Trump judges reversed a lower court ruling and granted qualified immunity to a police officer who improperly searched, arrested, and pointed his gun at two minors. Springdale, Arizona, police officer Larmont Marzolf stopped two boys, aged 12 and 14, while they were walking home from their grandparent’s house. Marzolf stopped and detained them as the boys matched the description of two wanted gang suspects. Despite their parents identifying them multiple times, Marzolf forced the boys to lie on the ground at gunpoint, handcuffed them, and searched them. It was not until a sergeant arrived that the boys were let go.

The parents sued Officer Marzolf for violating the boys’ Fourth Amendment rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and the District Court denied Marzolf’s request for qualified immunity.

Trump appointees Steven Grasz and Jonathan Kobes disagreed, finding that “Marzolf was doing his job protecting the people of Springdale from fleeing criminal suspects under challenging conditions.”

Judge Jane Kelly (Obama appointee) dissented (pdf):

Officer Marzolf may have been justified in his initial decision to stop W.Y. and S.Y. and even in his use of some force against them as he determined whether they posed a threat to his safety and the safety of others. But I disagree with the court’s conclusion that at no point over the course of their detention did he violate their Fourth Amendment rights. I write separately because I believe that the stop escalated to an arrest without probable cause; that Officer Marzolf unlawfully searched W.Y.; and that he used excessive force by continuing to point his gun at W.Y. and S.Y. as they lay on the ground. I would therefore affirm the district court’s ruling…

In the court’s view, on the night of January 8, 2018, Officer Marzolf was simply “doing his job protecting the people of Springdale from fleeing criminal suspects under challenging conditions.” I am sympathetic to the difficult, uncertain position Officer Marzolf was in when he encountered W.Y. and S.Y. But that initial difficulty did not allow him to “ignore changing circumstances and information that emerge[d] once [he] arriv[ed] on scene,” Neal v. Ficcadenti, 895 F.3d 576, 581 (8th Cir. 2018), and it did not authorize him to handcuff and continue to point his weapon at W.Y. and S.Y. once it was clear they were compliant, nonthreatening, and likely not the suspects he was looking for. Because I believe Officer Marzolf’s conduct over the course of W.Y. and S.Y.’s detention violated their Fourth Amendment rights, I respectfully dissent.

Other police-related rulings:

  • Five Trump judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals joined with a George W. Bush appointee to reverse a three-judge panel and uphold a police stop and search of a black man without reasonable suspicion. Two judges—a Clinton appointee and Obama appointee—concurred with the overall result, as required by “precedent,” but not with the majority’s “needlessly broad” opinion. Two other Clinton appointees and an Obama appointee dissented, writing that “the majority’s decision will increase the misuse of frisks, with innocent persons bearing the brunt of the increased frequency of frisks.”
  • Trump appointee Danielle Forrest cast the deciding vote excusing the city of Los Angeles for a liability after a police officer assaulted his stepdaughter’s boyfriend (background). Daniel Garza, the victim, sued Officer Mario Cardona and won $210,000. He then sued the city, arguing “ that the City ratified Cardona’s unconstitutional actions by promoting him shortly after the jury verdict against Cardona in the first trial.” The lower court excluded important evidence that indicated the city did, indeed, exonerate Cardona for his behavior. Judge Johnnie Rawlinson, a Clinton appointee, dissented, writing that the Los Angeles Chief of Police “approved of the Task Force’s [unconstitutional] tactics.” Rawlinson continues, “because the district court excluded crucial relevant evidence revealing the City’s duplicity, the jury’s assessment was not fully informed.”

Death sentence

Trump and George W. Bush appointees joined together to reinstate a death sentence imposed on an intellectually disabled Black man when he was 19. Danny Hill was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of a 12-year-old and has been fighting to get off death row for decades. The case has been bouncing around the courts ever since, with a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit vacating his death sentence last year:

This is not a case where evidence of intellectual disability comes out after conviction. Hill was diagnosed as intellectually disabled from a very young age. He attended special education classes. He could not be counted on to bathe. Yet, the Ohio courts were impressed by his ability to incriminate himself to the police and to rehash a scripted story in a cloak of competency. … There is no getting around it — Hill is intellectually disabled. To deny the obvious is unreasonable.

The full Sixth Circuit then reheard the case. In a 9-7 ruling, the majority—made up of Trump judges Thapar, Bush, Larsen, Nalbandian, and Readler plus W. Bush judges Gibbons, Sutton, Griffin, and Kethledge—found Hill not to be intellectually disabled and reinstated the death penalty against him.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented, joined by fellow Clinton appointees Merritt, Cole, Clay; Obama appointees Stranch and Donald; and a single W. Bush appointee, Helene White (pdf):

No person looking at this record could reasonably deny that Hill is intellectually disabled under Atkins. In holding otherwise, the Ohio courts avoided giving serious consideration to past evidence of Hill’s intellectual disability. Doing so amounted to an unreasonable determination of the facts and an unreasonable application of even the general Atkins standard. Because Atkins and the record inescapably mandate, even under AEDPA deference, that Ohio cannot execute Hill due to his intellectual disability, I dissent…

Several evaluations conducted around the time of Hill’s trial in 1986 reveal that Hill “has a diminished mental capacity,” Hill, 1989 WL 142761, at *32, a fact acknowledged by the state court after Hill’s Atkins hearing. See Hill, 894 N.E.2d at 112 (summarizing the testimony of the three experts who testified during the mitigation phase of the initial trial that Hill was mentally “retarded”). Hill’s IQ at the time of trial ranged from 55 to 68, and his moral development was “primitive”—essentially that of a two-year-old. Id. There is no dispute that Hill’s IQ is so low that he easily meets the first element of the clinical definition of intellectual disability.

Other rulings

Two Second Circuit Trump judges ruled against an “Amazon Flex” delivery driver claiming the corporation improperly classified drivers as independent contractors and did not pay them minimum wages and overtime.

Two Ninth Circuit Trump judges ruled that consumers harmed by high-interest payday loans cannot pursue a class action lawsuit for fraud and violations of California’s usury laws.

Two Eighth Circuit Trump judges reversed a previous court order that aimed to prevent “white flight” from desegregated Arkansas schools.