What amount of force is allowed when restraining an inmate?

prison_robben_island_south-scaledThe burden of proof lies heavily on claimants to establish the elements of the claim they bring forward. Failing to do so can result in the dismissal of the charge. In the case of George Preston, a prisoner in a Louisiana jail, his complaint against Lieutenant Hicks and four state correctional officers for excessive use of force highlights the importance of meeting the requirements to substantiate a claim. Analyzing the alleged violation of Preston’s Eighth Amendment rights, the court carefully considered the evidence and ultimately decided to dismiss some claims while allowing others to proceed.

George Preston, a prisoner in a Louisiana jail, filed a complaint against Lieutenant Hicks and four state correctional officers for excessive use of force, violating his Eighth Amendment rights. The incident occurred when an officer opened an inmate’s cell. When the door opened, Preston rushed in and allegedly tried to hit the prisoner. The Sergeant on duty called for help from Lieutenant Bowie, Lieutenant Hicks, Sergeant Dauzat, and Sergeant Augustine. The officers then worked together to restrain Preston. 

Preston claimed Lieutenant Hicks knocked him to the floor and elbowed him repeatedly in his face. While on the floor, Sergeant Augustine pinned his left arm behind him while Lieutenant Hicks pulled and twisted his right arm. Preston alleged Hick’s actions caused his shoulder to dislocate. Preston claimed he only entered the cell as a joke and that the officer retaliated excessively. 

The case notes stated Preston entered the cell after Lieutenant Hicks instructed him not to and that he allegedly attempted to hit the inmate. Two inmates provided sworn statements which recalled Preston screaming as Hicks twisted his arm. 

The court agreed the use of force was necessary to restrain Preston from taking further actions in the cell. In a disciplinary report, Preston admitted to his guilt and agreed Hick’s use of force was used in good faith. The district court dismissed Preston’s complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6A), a claimant must present an issue in which they will be able to receive relief.

Preston then filed an administrative complaint; however, the court denied it. The denial was due to x-ray evidence which showed Preston’s shoulder was not dislocated. Preston appealed. When analyzing a claim for excessive force under the Eighth Amendment, the focus is whether the force applied was in good faith. (Hudson v. McMillian). The claim also must meet four requirements: (1) describe the degree of harm, (2) the reason for the force, (3) the correlation between the need and the force applied, (4) reasonableness of the expected danger, and (5) ‘any efforts made to reduce a forceful interaction. (Whitley v. Albers). 

Preston agreed he ran into another inmate’s cell and ignored verbal commands to stop, which caused Sergeant Ford to call for help. Although Sergeant Augustine restrained Preston’s left arm, Preston’s screams and concerns were guided toward Lieutenant Hicks as he feared his right arm would break. While Sergeant Augustine held back Preston’s left arm, he only caused it to become strained, not injured. The Appeals Court reasoned Lieutenant Hicks’s action of pushing him to the floor, elbowing him repeatedly in his face, and twisting his arm was excessive. 

The appeals court held Preston alleged sufficient facts against Lieutenant Hicks. The appeals court reversed the dismissal of the claim against Lieutenant Hicks and remanded the case. However, the appeals court dismissed the claims against Lieutenant Bowie, Sergeant Ford, Dauzat, and Augustine. 

This case serves as a reminder of the rigorous standards required to prove excessive force and violation of constitutional rights. While the court dismissed claims against certain correctional officers, the reversal of the dismissal against Lieutenant Hicks demonstrates the court’s recognition of sufficient evidence supporting Preston’s allegations. As the legal process unfolds, it becomes evident that meeting the elements and requirements of a claim is essential for claimants to seek justice and hold responsible parties accountable.

Additional Sources: George Andrew Preston v. Bobby Hicks; Lieutenant W. Bowie. Sergeant Augustine, Sergeant Dauzat; Sergeant Ford

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Needum Lekia

Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on frivolous claims: Can a Pro Se litigant Proceed In Forma Pauperis?

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