US Supreme Court denies petition by man who alleges he was beaten by police

U.S. Supreme Court justices denied a petition filed on behalf of a Muskogee man seeking review of a ruling that rejected his reliance on video evidence introduced by defendants named in his civil rights lawsuit.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged courts “ordinarily accept the plaintiff’s version of the facts” when determining whether qualified immunity is proper when excessive force is alleged. But “those facts must find support in the record,” and Jeriel “Edwards submitted no evidence” when his lawyers opposed summary judgment at the district court level.

Edwards' petition was distributed July 14 for review during the justices' Sept. 27 conference. Their decision to deny Edwards' petition was entered in the record on Monday. 

A letter from the Office of the U.S. Supreme Court Clerk was delivered to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Oklahoma in Muskogee. The denial was delivered without explanation.  

Edwards' lawyers argued in the petition the 10th Circuit's decision contradicts an opinion rendered earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the petition, they argued the "prevalence of video evidence of civilian-police disputes" makes it "essential to preserve plaintiffs’ rights to have genuine, material fact disputes based on video evidence ... interpreted by a jury of their peers.”

Edwards filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging current and former Muskogee police officers used excessive force when they arrested him after an encounter at the Wendy’s parking lot on South 32nd Street, depriving him of his constitutional rights. District court and appellate court judges found that while Edwards sustained injuries as a result of multiple punches, the use of a neck restraint and Taser, the force used by police was “objectively reasonable.”

Edwards reportedly exhibited some confusion about the directions being given by police, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven P. Shreder of the Eastern District of Oklahoma construed Edwards’ trouble understanding as resistance to a lawful arrest. That resistance by Edwards justified the use of force by Muskogee Police Officer Greg Foreman and three other officers who took part in the arrest.

The appellate court, in footnotes to their 13-page opinion, state that while they “ordinarily accept the plaintiff’s version of the facts” when determining whether qualified immunity is proper, “those facts must find support in the record.” The court noted “Edwards submitted no evidence” in opposing summary judgment at the district court level, so “to the extent Edwards asserts a factual version that conflicts with” video images and the officers’ affidavits and reports “we do not adopt his version.”

Edwards’ lawyers argue the 10th Circuit’s misapplication of a standard laid out in an earlier Supreme Court “is part of a disturbing trend” among appellate courts that are changing “summary-judgment norms when the record includes video evidence.” That evidence, they argue, “must be viewed in the light most favorable” to the party opposing motions for summary judgment.

The Rutherford Institute, which backed Edwards' legal team, said the decision by the nation's highest court justifies the use of excessive force by police when people are unable to understand commands that are given. 

“If you ask police what Americans should do to stay alive during encounters with law enforcement, they will tell you to comply, cooperate, obey, not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings,” Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead states in a media release. “The problem is what to do when compliance is not enough."

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated. Affiliate lawyers representing Edwards included Erin Glenn Busby, Lisa R. Eskow and Michael F. Sturley of the University of Texas School of Law Supreme Court Clinic, and Andrea and Wyatt Worden of The Worden Law Firm in Norman. 

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