A lawsuit brought by a Los Angeles man who claimed a police officer choked him unconscious at a Las Vegas nightclub can move forward, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
“It has long been clear that a police officer may not seize a non-resisting, restrained person by placing him in a chokehold,” a three-member panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
The court said there is a “robust consensus” among appellate courts nationwide that such use violates the constitutional ban on unreasonable search and seizure, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Ian Tuuamalemalo, described by his lawyer as a Los Angeles-area construction worker, was with relatives at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in January 2014 when officers approached the group, the court said.
Tuuamalemalo, who weighed nearly 380 pounds, tried to talk to police but was told to shut up, leading to shoving, the court said.
“They claim they thought he was the ringleader” of a violent group, but Tuuamalemalo was just “trying to pull everybody back,” his attorney, Paola Armeni, told The Chronicle.
Tuuamalemalo fell down while being pushed down a hallway, got up and was walking toward an exit when he was grabbed and punched in the face, then forced to the ground by five officers, according to Armeni.
A video showed one officer applying a chokehold, and Tuuamalemalo blacked out, the court said. It then took several attempts to revive him.
He was subsequently arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and malicious destruction of property. The charges were later dropped.
Tuuamalemalo sued, alleging use of excessive force. The officer who applied the chokehold argued that Tuuamalemalo had been resisting arrest.
The court said, however, that “there was little chance he could initiate resistance with five other officers fully restraining him and pinning him to the ground.”
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