5th Circuit Holds Foot Officer Acted Reasonably in Unsaddling Motorcycle Rider

Aguilar v. Williams No. 11-51069 (5th Circuit, February 19, 2013).

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of qualified immunity asserted by two police officers in their motion for summary judgment.  The only thing significant about this case is the Court recognized that prior to this opinion, there was not established law regarding the reasonable use of force in the detention of a motorcycle driver by deputies on foot. This case does provide parameters for such a situation.

Plaintiff, a motorcyclist who was injured in a traffic stop, brought the underlying § 1983 suit against two deputies in the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for knocking him from his motorcycle with excessive force for a speeding violation.

The acts an officer are held to be objectively reasonable unless all reasonable officials in the defendant’s circumstances would have then known that the  conduct violated the Constitution.  The Fifth Circuit reversed the denial of qualified immunity as to one of the officers on foot after finding that not every reasonable officer would know that hitting a motorcycle rider on the shoulder who had so far not stopped despite being ordered to do so would have violated the motorcycle rider’s constitutional rights.

As to the other officer, the Court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity after finding all reasonable officers would have known in the circumstances of someone completely stopped on a motorcycle, who was not resisting arrest, and who had neither committed nor threatened any crime besides the speeding, that tackling the rider to the concrete would violate a constitutional right.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here.