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Officer denied immunity over truck driver’s detention

March 29, 2022 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire police officer has been denied qualified immunity in a lawsuit accusing him of an unreasonable seizure and use of excessive force.

A federal judge found on Monday that the Ossipee officer wasn’t entitled to qualified immunity, which protects government employees from lawsuits as long as their actions don’t violate clearly established law or constitutional rights they should have known about.

The truck driver’s lawsuit alleges that the officer’s detention of him as he was vacuuming his vehicle at a car wash at night in 2019 was an unreasonable seizure, from the time he was handcuffed until he was released from custody. It also alleges that the officer used excessive force, slamming him against a police cruiser.

The judge wrote that there was no indication that the man had engaged in or intended to engage in an activity that threatened public safety. The presence of a baseball bat on the ground, which the man had taken out of his truck with his other things before the officer arrived, was not enough to raise alarm.

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“Without more, a reasonable officer would not have believed that he needed to handcuff and frisk” the man, the judge wrote.

The officer also argued that he had probable cause to believe the man was intoxicated, but the complaint doesn’t admit that he was either intoxicated or appeared to be so, the judge said.

The judge concluded that the man had committed no crime and showed no attempt to resist or flee when the officer used “significant force” to subdue him.