United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
MARIO D. BELL, Plaintiff,
FORT WAYNE POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
T. MOODY JUDGE.
D. Bell, a pro se prisoner, filed an amended
complaint (DE # 10) alleging that six Fort Wayne Police
Officers used excessive force while arresting him on November
23, 2014. “A document filed pro se is to be
liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however
inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers . . . .”
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this court
must review the complaint and dismiss it if the action is
frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks
monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such
relief. “In order to state a claim under [42 U.S.C.]
§ 1983 a plaintiff must allege: (1) that defendants
deprived him of a federal constitutional right; and (2) that
the defendants acted under color of state law.”
Savory v. Lyons, 469 F.3d 667, 670 (7th Cir. 2006).
claim that an officer employed excessive force in arresting a
person is evaluated under the Fourth Amendment's
objective-reasonableness standard.” Abbott v.
Sangamon Cty., Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 724 (7th
Cir. 2013). The question in Fourth Amendment excessive use of
force cases is “whether the officers' actions are
‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and
circumstances confronting them, without regard to their
underlying intent or motivation.” Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). “The test of
reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of
precise definition or mechanical application, ”
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979), the
question is “whether the totality of the
circumstances” justifies the officers' actions.
Graham at 396.
result of this arrest, Bell was convicted of Resisting Law
Enforcement and being a Serious Violent Felon in Possession
of a Firearm. Bell v. State, 57 N.E.3d 895
(Ind.Ct.App. 2016) (table). “In Evans v.
Poskon, 603 F.3d 362 (7th Cir.2010), [the Seventh
Circuit] addressed the ability of a plaintiff to proceed on a
§ 1983 excessive force claim where that plaintiff had
been convicted of resisting arrest, and held that the
plaintiff can only proceed to the extent that the facts
underlying the excessive force claim are not inconsistent
with the essential facts supporting the conviction.”
Helman v. Duhaime, 742 F.3d 760, 762 (7th Cir.
2014). Here is how the State Court described these events:
At approximately 5:00 p.m. on November 23, 2014, Detective
Greenlee was on patrol when he noticed a car in front of him
without its headlights on. Because visibility was poor,
Detective Greenlee decided to stop the car and, to that end,
activated his lights. Detective Greenlee first engaged Bell,
who was the only person in the car, through the
passenger-side window and noticed that Bell's hands were
shaking. Detective Greenlee also noticed that Bell was
attempting to hurry the traffic stop along. Detective
Greenlee identified Bell and determined that the car was not
registered in Bell's name. As it happened, Bell had
borrowed the car from Charlene Woods, his sister. Detective
Grooms soon arrived to assist Detective Greenlee.
Detectives Grooms and Greenlee consulted with each other,
re-approached the car, and had Bell exit it. Detective
Greenlee told Bell to speak with Detective Grooms, and, when
Detective Grooms put his hand on Bell's shoulder and
said, “I need you to stand right here, ” Bell
ran. The detectives pursued, with Detective Grooms catching
up to Bell as he hopped a fence. Detective Grooms fired his
taser and administered a five-second charge to Bell, who was
initially incapacitated but soon attempted to rise. By this
time, Detective Greenlee had arrived and Detective Grooms
tased Bell again so that Detective Greenlee would have time
to climb over the fence. At this point, Detective Grooms
thought that Bell might be suffering a seizure, and Detective
Greenlee observed that Bell didn't look like a person who
he'd tased before. Detective Greenlee handcuffed Bell in
the front out of concerns for Bell's safety, and
Detective Grooms called for immediate medical assistance.
Detective Greenlee rolled Bell onto his side, and,
approximately forty-five seconds later, Bell started to
regain consciousness. By this time, additional back-up had
arrived. Although he was told repeatedly to stay down, Bell
used both of his hands to push up from the ground, despite
being pushed down by three police officers. Bell was
thrashing violently and forcibly resisting the officers
efforts to keep him on the ground and handcuff him behind his
Eventually, six officers joined in the attempt to subdue
Bell, using various techniques to gain Bell's compliance.
Detective Grooms delivered three knee strikes to Bell's
thigh, which resulted in some temporary compliance. Officer
John Drummer kicked Bell in the face after Bell grabbed his
ankles and attempted to grab his gun. Eventually, the
officers were able to force Bell's arms behind his back
and handcuff him.
Bell v. State, 57 N.E.3d 895, *1-2 (Ind.Ct.App.
2016) (table) (brackets citations and quotation marks
complaint, Bell does not dispute that he ran from the
officers, but argues that it was an unreasonable and
excessive use of force for Detective Grooms to have used his
taser to stop him. “Factors relevant to the
reasonableness inquiry include ‘the severity of the
crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat
to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is
actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
flight.'” Williams v. Brooks, 809 F.3d
936, 944 (7th Cir. 2016) quoting Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989).
the officers stopped Bell for driving without his headlights
on. There is no indication that they had probable cause to
believe that he had committed any other offense when he
decided to run away from them. Neither is there any
indication that by running away from them he posed an
immediate threat to their safety or anyone else. Nor is there
any indication that he was actively resisting arrest or
attempting to evade arrest by running because he was not
under arrest and there is no indication that the officers
were trying to arrest him. Based on these facts, Bell has
plausibly alleged that Detective Grooms used excessive force
by tasing him.
also alleges that all six defendants used excessive force
against him after he was handcuffed and on the ground. He
alleges that he did not fight back and was only struggling to
breathe. However, these allegations contradict the facts
necessary to support his conviction for Resisting Law
Enforcement and he “can only proceed to the extent that
the facts underlying the excessive force claim are not
inconsistent with the essential facts supporting the
conviction.” Helman v. Duhaime, 742 F.3d 760,
762 (7th Cir. 2014). Therefore the court must accept that for
the purposes of this lawsuit he violently and forcibly
resisted the police. He kicked, pushed, wrestled, and fought
with them. He grabbed at them and attempted to gain control
of a gun during the struggle. It is in light of his actions
during the fight that it must be determined whether he has
plausibly alleged that the defendant officers were
objectively unreasonable when they held him down, punched him
in the groin, struck him in the knee, tased him three more
times, and kicked him in the head to prevent him from
grabbing a gun.
It is an objective inquiry, the dispositive question being
whether, in light of the facts and circumstances that
confronted the officer (and not 20/20 hindsight), the officer
behaved in an objectively reasonable manner, irrespective of
the officer's underlying intent or motivation. In
answering this question, we remain cognizant of the fact that
police officers are often forced to make split-second
judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and
rapidly evolving - about the amount of force that is
necessary in a particular situation. As a result, we give
considerable leeway to law enforcement officers'
assessments about the appropriate use of force in dangerous
Abbott v. Sangamon Cty., Ill., 705 F.3d 706, 724-25
(7th Cir. 2013) (quotation marks and citations omitted).
Here, where Bell was continuing to fight and trying to gain
control of a gun, he has not plausibly alleged that the
defendants' uses of force against him were objectively
unreasonable. They were fighting to prevent him from getting
a gun with which he could have killed them. His attempts to
gain access to deadly force demonstrate that their ...