Troy Goode visited Southaven in 2015 to perform at a Widespread Panic show. It was a brief experience. After local police arrived to hogtie him and made him stay there for about an hour, the incident would be over.
Kelli Goode’s legal battle to hold officers responsible for their alleged unconstitutional use force began with Troy’s passing. She would not be allowed to present her claim to a jury for nearly six years after several federal courts decided that she had violated established law. The difficulty of even starting a lawsuit and the experience she had following it through the courts is an example of how hard it can be. You can tryTo hold the state agents responsible for violating your rights
Troy experienced anxiety attacks on July 18, 2015. Kelli called 911 to get help. They arrived and cuffed Kelli. The cops ordered him to remain there for at least 90 minutes. This included after he was taken to a local hospital. A witness said that he struggled to breath and eventually became red and grunting. He passed away shortly afterward.
Kelli brought suit against the officers. Public servants can be granted qualified immunity, and are immune from any such lawsuits unless the plaintiff can show that the actions of these officials were specifically unconstitutional. Two police officers from Fresno, California were exempted by civil lawsuits after they allegedly took $225,000 in cash while serving a search warrant. Although the court held that theft is wrong, it doesn’t mean the ruling applies to these circumstances.
This means that it is a strict standard you must meet and sometimes allows for parody. But Kelli met it. Kelli met it. In April 2020 the U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, delivered the last blow to qualified immunity claims.
Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote that “hog-tying drug-affected persons in drug-induced psychosis, and placing them face-down in prone positions for extended periods of time, constitutes excessive force” without a risk of serious injury, noting that this precedent was informed “widely circulated by medical studies.” What about Troy’s panicked state? Clement said that Troy appeared to struggle to breath after he was held down by several officers. A jury could conclude that Troy was simply trying to get to a place where he can breathe.
This is not an unusual position. It is up to the officer whether or not they acted in an inappropriate manner. JuryTo make, as the Founding Fathers had prescribed. Kelli’s case was never heard by a jury comprised of her peers. Southaven made an announcement the day before the trial began: They wanted to settle.
Terms of the agreement will remain confidential. “I can tell you that I’m happy my son”—who was 15 months old when Troy died—”will be taken care of for the rest of his life,” she tells me. “I just believe that if we don’t hold their feet to the fire, they would have happily just gone on about their day….They said they investigated and found no wrongdoing, but that was about two days after it happened. Nobody ever lost their job. Only a few were actually promoted. They never had to be suspended.
It remains to be decided whether such settlements are meaningfully accountable. Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite offers an explanation in this instance.
In a statement, he stated that this decision does not constitute an admission or guilt. His team tried everything possible to save Troy Goode’s lives in an extremely stressful situation. We also do not accept responsibility for any actions taken by the other involved parties. Our first responders were faced with many difficulties that night, but their timely decisions proved crucial. Their bravery was admirable and they did a great job in keeping our city and citizens safe.
Joanna Schwartz is a UCLA professor whose research centers on the accountability of police officers. She says, “Certainly, if the statement by the mayor implies that the mayor doesn’t see any value in the facts of this particular case,” That may just be idle talk. If you hope that police departments and local governments will learn from these kinds of cases and try to prevent something similar from happening in the future, you…don’t get a sense of that kind of introspection.”
Kelli is now more comfortable because the city changed its policy about hogtying in 2019.
“Troy was my life,” she said. It wasn’t possible to say goodbye and tell me what the future holds. We can stop another family going through the same thing.