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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reverses district court’s summary judgment for defendant police officer in excessive force case involving Alabama man killed by officer during arrest for refusal to produce driver’s license

On September 3, 2020, in Cantu v. City of Dothan, Alabama, et al., No. 18-15071, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a U.S. district court ruling that had granted a summary judgment dismissal to the defendant police officer in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights case. The Alabama police officer was alleged to have violated the Fourth Amendment rights of an arrestee by using excessive force in a confrontation that arose because the arrestee refused to show his driver’s license. The arrestee was subsequently shot to death by one of the arresting officers. The district court had dismissed the case on the grounds that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because at the time the shot was fired the officer had probable cause to believe that the arrestee posed a threat of serious physical harm. In making this determination, the district court had rejected the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation that summary judgment be denied because there were material issues of disputed fact about whether the arrestee, who was unarmed but was wrestling with the officer while the officer was holding a taser, actually posed a threat of serious physical harm. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with he Magistrate Judge, noting, inter alia, that the arrestee was suspected of having committed at most a low-level non-violent offense, that resisting arrest alone is not enough to justify the use of deadly force (citing Smith v. LePage, 834 F.3d 1285, 1297 (11th Cir. 2016), and that a taser is generally not considered a deadly weapon (citing Fils v. City of Aventura, 647 F.3d 1272, 1276 n.2 (11th Cir. 2011).