Dragging Out Protesters Disrupting City Council Meeting Isn’t Excessive Force

In Judge Danielle Forrest’s opinion Williamson v. City of National CityThis was joined by Consuelo and Susan Callahan Judges. I find this to be correct.

Tasha Williamson, along with others, protested during the National City, California city council meeting. This is an excessive force case. Protesters obstructed the continuation of the council meeting. Police officers advised them that they must leave or be arrested. They refused to go and kept going limp. The officers handcuffed and pulled the protesters by the arms out of the room.

Williamson filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that she suffered wrist and shoulder injuries when she was forcibly removed. We conclude that the officers did not use excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment ….

We ask the question “Whether the officers’ actions are sufficient to support a Fourth Amendment claim that excessive force has been made [wer]They were “objectively reasonable” given the circumstances and facts. For us to determine whether an officer was objectively reasonable we look at: “(1) The severity of the intrusion onto the Fourth Amendment rights of an individual by evaluating force used, (2) Government’s interest and (3) Balance between the gravity of the intrusion and the need of government for it.” …

The evidence against Williamson is overwhelming, but the amount and type of force the Officers used in this case were minimal. Williamson was not struck by the Officers, thrown to the floor, or used any other compliance tactics or weapons in an attempt to cause her pain. They held Williamson by the arms, lifted her up so that they could take her out of their meeting room.

The inherent danger of officers pulling someone with a limp who refuses to use her own strength is minimal. It cannot reasonably be disputed that the force the Officers used in this case was less significant than “yanking, pulling, jerking, and twisting” a person whose legs are pinned underneath a car seat—which we have deemed a minimal intrusion….

Finally, Williamson’s injuries—a sprained wrist, mild swelling, and a torn rotator cuff—though not trivial, are roughly equivalent to those in ForresterBroken wrists, pinched nerves and bruises are less common than in the previous example. Johnson(announced a paraplegic). We concluded in each case that, despite any injuries sustained by the victim, the intrusion was not significant. We conclude the same here….

We then “evaluate what the state is trying to do by assessing the following: 1) how serious was the crime, 2) whether it posed an immediate risk to the safety and security of officers or other personnel, and 3) whether the suspect actively refused to be arrested or attempted to escape arrest by flight. “Among these considerations, the ‘most important’ is the second factor—whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to others.” …

Williamson did not commit any crime, she was not a threat to anybody, and she wasn’t resisting arrest. However, officers argue they had a legitimate right to remove and arrest Williamson, especially where appropriate warnings were made before resorting to physical force. We should also consider Williamson’s “relative guilt” for refusing to stand up. Williamson counters by arguing that even with her relative culpability, the governmental interest is “as low as it can get”.

Although we conclude that Williamson was not interested in being removed from the City Council meeting by National City, it is still present. Williamson’s peaceful disruption of the council meeting was minor. Williamson did not cause any danger or injury to anyone else, so we don’t believe she is culpable.

Yet, even though the city had little interest due to the absence of imminent harm or other factors it did not require the city to “allow the organized lawlessness” of the protestors. “Even passive resistance may support the use of some degree of governmental force if necessary to attain compliance … depend[ing]Report on the facts that underlie this resistance.”

The protesters posed a risk that was far greater than zero. The protesters were not as aggressive as the ones who had gathered near the podium. But other protesters, or people who sympathized with the demonstrations of the protesters, remained nearby and shouted at the officers. At times they tried to get into the podium area. These crowds pose a greater risk than the six who slept near the podium. ForresterAnd FelarcaIt is not, however it can be used to assess the circumstances in which the officers were faced in making the decision to either remove protestors or allow them to continue the demonstration.

The citizens are entitled to their opinions and grievances at every level of government. However, they cannot stop the lawful functioning of the government that has been duly elected. This would be a slap on the face of an ordered society.

Protesters were repeatedly reminded by officers that they must leave the front door of the meeting to avoid being arrested. The protesters disrupted the meeting of the city council, and it was subsequently canceled “for restoration.” National City’s choice was to allow the protesters to remain in the city council’s meeting room until they chose to leave on their own—which the constitution does not require—or to forcibly remove them.

Williamson does not know of any lesser intrusive ways that Officers could restore order to the City Council room in order for city legitimate business to continue. There would have been no other way to physically remove her if she wouldn’t cooperate or leave. This could be done by using additional officers or pulling her along her legs. We conclude that as described in ForresterNational City may have had an legitimate interest in “dispersing & removing lawbreakers,” however, the scope of that interest was limited as it wasn’t confronting a large crowd with “concerted efforts to invade private property and obstruct businesses and hinder law enforcement”, which was what was happening in. Forrester.

Williamson said that Williamson, along with the others protesters, had made a decision in advance not to leave the meeting. Their protest had the sole purpose of disrupting the meeting of the city council and interfering with city business. The protestors created a situation where the city was forced to choose between allowing the chaos to continue or using force to clear the room. The “undisputed evidence” proves that only reasonable force was used by the officers to disperse the protesters. [Williamson]”From the meeting.”

Williamson might have prevented or minimized the injuries and pain she claims she sustained from Officers’ conduct. She could have cooperated with them, and left the room in her own strength. She did not. Her choice doesn’t make Officers’ behavior unreasonable. To conclude otherwise would be to discount entirely the City’s legitimate interests in maintaining order and ensuring that the public’s business is not circumvented by people engaging in disruptive, albeit nonviolent, conduct….