WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pointing out that individuals awaiting trial (pretrial detainees) are particularly vulnerable to government abuse and should not be forced to prove that their alleged abusers intended to harm them in order to claim their rights were violated, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to remove restrictions some courts have imposed on civil rights lawsuits for excessive force by inmates against jail personnel, thereby discouraging the use of excessive force by prison officials. The case of Kingsley v. Hendrickson involves a Wisconsin man who alleges that he was subjected to unreasonable and excessive force in reckless disregard for his safety when prison guards forcibly removed him from his jail cell and subdued with a stun gun.
"In a police state, there is no need for judges, juries or courts of law, because the police act as judge, jury and law, and their version of justice is one-sided, delivered at the end of a gun, taser or riot stick," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. "Unless the courts and legislatures act soon to change this climate of government-sanctioned police brutality, we may find that there is no real difference between those who are innocent, those accused of committing crimes and those found guilty, because we will all suffer the same at the hands of government agents."
In 2010, Michael Kingsley was arrested and booked into the jail in Sparta, Wisconsin, and detained there pending his court appearances on the charges against him. About one month into his detention, guards noticed that a sheet of yellow paper was covering the light above Kingsley's bed, which was a common practice among detainees in order to dim the brightness of the facilities lights. The guards ordered Kingsley to remove the paper, but he refused, pointing out that he had not put the paper over the light. The next morning, Kingsley was again ordered to remove the paper and again he refused. The jail administrator was then called, who told Kingsley he would be transferred to another cell. Five officers then came to the cell and ordered Kingsley to stand up. Kingsley protested that he had done nothing wrong, but was told to follow the order or he would be tasered. Kingsley continued to lie face down on his bunk but put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed. The officers then pulled Kingsley off the bunk, which allegedly caused injuries to his knees and feet and inflicted pain so severe Kingsley could not stand or walk. The officers then carried him to a receiving cell, placed him face down on a bunk and attempted to remove the handcuffs. Although Kingsley denied that he resisted, the officers allegedly smashed his head into the concrete bunk and placed a knee into his back. When Kingsley told the officer to get off him, one of the officers tasered Kingsley for five seconds. As a result of this incident, Kingsley sued several officers involved, alleging that they used excessive force against him and that this violated his constitutional right to due process. The jury ruled against Kingsley, who subsequently lost his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Affiliate attorney Stephen J. Neuberger of The Neuberger Firm assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.