• February 2, 2018

Drawing of Anger, made possible by Creative Commons, http://goo.gl/pYeceX

The refrain in The Message by Grandmaster Flash (1982) goes like this:

Don’t push me, ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/It’s like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder how I keep from going under…

Most if not all of us are pushed, we are tried, and we are stressed. Every day. By bills, deadlines, dilemmas, responsibilities, and pressures of all kinds from several different directions.

Sometimes, on top of it all, indecent and unpunished injustice piles on, as well.

One has to imagine that Alan Morrison was pushed over the edge when police showed up at his home because of unsubstantiated claims of child abuse of his daughter.

It seems that Mr. Morrison lost his temper.

Did that justify his being surrounded by several police officers, being put in a headlock to the point of losing consciousness and being tased? Was that a reasonable use of force?

With the absence of factual detail in this post, you cannot know. Perhaps, even if we were all there, in Mr. Morrison’s front yard watching, some of us would decide that the police conduct was excessive and others of us would decide it was warranted.

If a Court hears a wide range of testimony, some quite inconsistent, when is it appropriate for the Court to take the issue away from a jury and decide, as a matter of law, that the police conduct was lawful? As to some eyewitness testimony, Sr. U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson (D. Minn.) reasoned:

[One eye witness] account is wildly inconsistent with Morrison’s own testimony, but Morrison nonetheless asserts that the Court should adopt [this] version of the facts because those are the facts most favorable to Morrison. …However, the serious inconsistencies between [this witness’] version of the incident and the version offered by every other witness make the wholesale adoption of [this witness’] version of the facts inappropriate.

Thus, on the police officers’ motion for summary judgment, Sr. U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson (D. Minn.) concluded:

The Court is sympathetic to Morrison, who was accused of a terrible crime and was quite naturally upset about that accusation. The officers, however, were performing their duties in a lawful manner.

With all due respect to a distinguished and admired federal judge, it seems a stretch to reject the eyewitness testimony. Unlike Mr. Morrison himself (who was clearly beside himself) and the police officers (whose motive for “spin” in their testimony is obvious), the eyewitness had both literal proximity and emotional distance. And the point of juries is to decide the accuracy of eyewitness accounts and what weight to give them, is it not?

LEVENTHAL pllc handles a broad range of Minnesota civil litigation, including Section 1983 claims.

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