Ferguson, Missouri: Henry Davis may get his day in court

Davis v. White, No. 14-1722 (8th Cir. July 28, 2015).

This case comes to the Eighth Circuit from that center of impartial and enlightened governance, Ferguson, Missouri. After arresting plaintiff Henry Davis for drunk driving, Ferguson police took him to jail. They led him into a cell where the only bed was already occupied—it was very early in the morning—and Davis told the officers that he wouldn’t enter the cell until they gave him a nearby mat to rest on. The police pushed him into the cell and a fight ensued. As a result of the fight, Officer Michael White’s nose was broken, and Davis suffered a concussion and a scalp laceration. Here’s what Davis looked like after the fight (fair warning: it is disturbing). Thereafter, Davis was charged with destruction of property, because his blood had discolored the officers’ uniforms. 

The litigants’ accounts of the fight differ, but according to Davis—who must be believed at this stage—the officers kicked and beat Davis while he was handcuffed and subdued on the floor of the jail cell. The district court dismissed Davis’s excessive-force claims, saying that his injuries did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation: “As unreasonable as it may sound, a reasonable officer could have believed that beating a subdued and compliant Mr. Davis while causing only a concussion, scalp laceration, and bruising with almost no permanent damage did not violate the Constitution.”

The Eighth Circuit now reverses, holding that those injuries are not de minimis—they are sufficient for a constitutional violation. And the court remands the case for the district court to analyze whether the police officers’ use of force was, in the recent words of the Supreme Court, “objectively reasonable.”