California Man Choked Unconscious Can Sue Police, Court Rules

December 27, 2019

A California man can proceed to trial with a lawsuit against a police officer who choked him unconscious at a Las Vegas nightclub, a federal appeals court ruled this week.

“It has long been clear that a police officer may not seize a non-resisting, restrained person by placing him in a choke hold,” a three-member panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

The court said that 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 them and 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.

A video showed one officer applying a choke hold, and Tuuamalemalo blacked out, the court said.

It took several attempts to revive him.

He was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and malicious destruction of property. But the charges were later dropped.

Tuuamalemalo sued, alleging use of excessive force. The officer who applied the choke hold 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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