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Saunders v. Duke

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 8, 2014

OBERIST LEE SAUNDERS, a.k.a. Oberist Lee Saunders, Jr., Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
GEORGE C. DUKE, M.B.I. Agent, THOMAS MATTHEWS, Agent, CONRAD KILIAN, Agent, Defendants - Appellees

Page 1263

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1264

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D.C. Docket No. 6:10-cv-00120-MSS-GJK.

For Oberist Lee Saunders, Plaintiff - Appellant: Daniel Joseph Moriarty, Green & Sapp, LLP, Atlanta, GA; Elizabeth Vila Rogan, Law Office of Elizabeth Vila Rogan, Atlanta, GA; Tomoka CI Warden, Doral, FL.

Oberist Lee Saunders, Plaintiff - Appellant, Pro se, Daytona Beach, FL.

For GEORGE C. DUKE, M.B.I. Agent, Defendant - Appellee: Kenneth Van Wilson, Caroline Johnson Levine, Office of the Attorney General, Civil Litigation, Tampa, FL; Pam Bondi, Attorney General's Office, Tampa, FL.

For THOMAS MATTHEWS, Agent, Defendant - Appellee: Pam Bondi, Attorney General's Office, Tampa, FL; Austin Moore, City of Orlando, Orlando, FL.

For CONRAD KILIAN, Agent, Defendant - Appellee: Ian D. Forsythe, Hilyard Bogan & Palmer, PA, Orlando, FL; Pam Bondi, Attorney General's Office, Tampa, FL.

Before WILSON and JORDAN, Circuit Judges, and ROTHSTEIN,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

Page 1265

JORDAN, Circuit Judge:

We have repeatedly ruled that a police officer violates the Fourth Amendment, and is denied qualified immunity, if he or she uses gratuitous and excessive force against a suspect who is under control, not resisting, and obeying commands. See, e.g., Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, 208 F.3d 919, 927 (11th Cir. 2000); Slicker v. Jackson, 215 F.3d 1225, 1233 (11th Cir. 2000); Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1198 (11th Cir. 2002). Consistent with these decisions, we hold today that Oberist Saunders, who alleged that his head was " slammed" against the pavement with " extreme force" after he had been handcuffed and was lying prone on the ground, stated a valid Fourth Amendment claim for excessive force, and that the defendants--agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation--were not entitled to qualified immunity. We therefore reverse the district court's dismissal of Mr. Saunders' Fourth Amendment claim.[1]

I

Proceeding pro se, Mr. Saunders filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against FDLE Agent George Duke and MBI Agents Thomas Matthews and Conrad Kilian. As amended, the operative complaint alleged the following facts.

On January 24, 2008, Mr. Saunders met with a couple of individuals at a gas station in Orlando, Florida, to sell them oxycodone pills. Those individuals, however, turned out to be an undercover officer and a confidential informant. Mr. Saunders entered the front passenger seat of the undercover agent's car and conducted the narcotics transaction. After the sale was completed, Agents Duke, Matthews, and Kilian surrounded the vehicle with their weapons drawn. Agent Matthews ordered Mr. Saunders to place his hands on the car's windshield and not move. Mr. Saunders immediately complied with the command without resisting or attempting to flee. Agent Kilian then jerked Mr. Saunders out of the vehicle and pushed him down on the hot pavement in order to handcuff him.

After he was handcuffed, Mr. Saunders was held down against the hot pavement on his stomach for a " long period of time," though he was " not resisting, posing [a] threat, or attempting to flee." He told the agents that he was " getting burnt." During this time Mr. Saunders " was holding his face up off the hot pavement to keep from being burn[ed]." Though he was not resisting or attempting to flee, one of the agents " slammed" Mr. Saunders' face onto the pavement " with extreme force." Mr. Saunders did not see which one of the agents struck him, but all three agents were present at the time. When Mr. Saunders was brought to his feet, " blood was pouring out of ...


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