Administrator and Resource Officer Denied Qualified Immunity for Excessive Force

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals out of Michigan recently affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to a school administrator and school resource officer accused of using excessive force against a student. The student alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable seizures and protects citizens from excessive force.

The suit alleged that high school assistant principal observed the student violating a school rule regarding which door to enter. The student alleged that the school administrator used force to remove the him from the building, threw him to the ground, and held his knee to the student’s chest.  The school resource officer allegedly swung his arm at the student’s face, breaking his jaw. The defendants requested pretrial judgment in their favor asserting their entitlement to qualified immunity. The trial court denied the request and the defendants appealed.

The court of appeals affirmed, holding that a reasonable jury could conclude that the force was unreasonable. The student was not suspected of committing a crime and it was disputed whether the student posed a threat. It was also disputed whether the student had resisted at the time of the use of force. Because material fact issues remained, the court of appeals concluded that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity and that the case could proceed to trial.

The court observed that, although school administrators have a substantial interest in maintaining discipline on school grounds, such interest does not justify the excessive force as alleged in this suit.  The case is E.W. v. Detroit Pub. Sch. Dist., 20-1790 (6th Cir. Mar. 21, 2022).

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