Appellate Clinic News: Sixth Circuit Issues Opinion in Crawford v. Geiger

On August 11, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided in favor of William & Mary Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic clients Mark Crawford, Brendon Reed, and Debra Ornelas, the Plaintiff-Appellees in Crawford v. Geiger, Case Nos. 15-4180 and 15-4181. The Plaintiffs alleged that they were unlawfully arrested with excessive force when police escalated a misunderstanding regarding a burglary call into a violent arrest of a family on their own rural Ohio property.

Mark Crawford's mother called him the night of the incident because she was worried that someone was breaking into the family's nearby business warehouse.  Crawford called  Brendon Reed, his nephew, and the two set out to investigate. In the interim, Crawford's mother asked another family member to call 911. Read the opinion and factual background. Crawford and Reed alleged that they encountered someone also on the scene. It was night, and they could not see that it was a uniformed police officer. The officer refused to identify himself, and all they could see was the light coming from his flashlight. When they heard radio traffic coming from the officer's communication device, Crawford and Reed put down their guns, and raised their hands. The officer slammed Crawford against a truck, and put his full body weight on Crawford. Crawford told Reed and Debra Ornelas (a family member who travelled to the scene out of concern that the pair would be mistaken as burglars) to record the encounter with their cell phones. Officer Hart restrained them. He arrested Reed and shoved Ornelas back in the truck. 

The Plaintiffs sued the two officers and a third who assisted in the arrest, and the United States District Court ruled that the officers were not immune to suit because their actions were not reasonable. Hart and the officer who assisted in the arrest of Crawford appealed. The Sixth Circuit ruled that the district court correctly found that Hart was not entitled to qualified immunity. The Court ruled that Ornelas was constitutionally protected against Hart shoving her without suspecting any illegal activity or obstruction by her, and Hart's arrest of Reed was unconstitutional under the facts alleged by the plaintiffs. It further ruled that the officer assisting in the arrest was entitled to qualified immunity because he arrived on the scene late, was unaware of some facts, and only assisted in the arrest.

Melanie Lazor J.D. '16 and Candace Wherry J.D. '16 were primarily responsible for the briefing and worked on the case during their third-year studies. Students in the clinic practice under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Tillman J. Breckenridge, a partner at Bailey & Glasser LLP and director of the Law School's Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic.

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