Circuit Court, CV-15-375
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI
Key petitions this court for a common-law writ of certiorari,
seeking review of the decision of the Jefferson Circuit Court
("the circuit court") affirming an order of the
Jefferson County Personnel Board ("the Personnel
Board"). The Personnel Board's order suspended Key
for 30 days without pay from his position as a police officer
for the City of Irondale. Key's suspension was based on
an allegation that Key had used excessive force against an
inmate ("the inmate") in the Irondale City Jail.
The Personnel Board, however, made an express factual finding
in its order that Key's actions were "necessary to
further restrain the [inmate], who subsequent to being
restrained, continued to engage in conduct that could be
deemed disruptive and could have potentially endangered the
officers present." Key's suspension is inconsistent
with this express factual finding and, therefore, lacks
reasonable justification. Therefore, we grant the petition
and reverse the circuit court's decision.
and Procedural History
previously indicated, Key is a law-enforcement officer with
the City of Irondale ("Irondale"). On April 9,
2015, Irondale police officers, including Key, acted to
restrain and control the inmate in the Irondale City Jail.
The incident was recorded with the video cameras in the jail.
On May 6, 2015, Lt. Jason Wiggins, the interim chief of
police of Irondale, sent a notice to Key that he was being
placed on administrative leave. The notice stated the
following factual basis for the disciplinary action:
"It has come to my attention that on or about Thursday,
April 9, 2015, you were recorded physically assaulting a
prisoner in the Irondale jail. Specifically, you were
recorded striking said prisoner repeatedly in the face. It is
my understanding that at the time this incident took place,
the prisoner was restrained and posed no threat of physical
harm to you, other officers, or civilians, it is also my
understanding that as a result of your actions the prisoner
suffered a broken jaw.
"You were also recorded using a taser on a restrained
22, 2015, Wiggins sent Key notice of his decision to suspend
him for 60 days without pay. As grounds for the suspension,
Wiggins found that Key's actions violated the Irondale
Use of Force Policy regarding the use of excessive force, the
use of a Taser weapon against a restrained subject, and the
use of a Taser weapon by an uncertified user. Wiggins also
found that Key had demonstrated the following causes for
disciplinary action under Jefferson County Personnel Board
Rule 12.2: conduct unbecoming of a classified employee (Rule
12.2(c)); incompetence and inefficiency (Rule 12.2(g));
neglect of duty (Rule 12.2(j)); and any other legitimate and
nondiscriminatory reason that constitutes good cause for
disciplinary action ... (Rule 12.2(p)).
Irondale Use of Force Policy provides the guidelines and
procedures restricting the use of excessive force. Under the
policy, police officers are authorized to use force
"[t]o protect themselves and/or from physical
attack" or "[t]o maintain order in the jail."
The policy further provides:
"The officer's use of force must be reasonable and
appropriate to the situation. An officer will only use
the amount of force that is necessary to bring a situation
under control. An officer must exercise their discretion and
judgment when using force. Officers will only use weapons ...
that the officer has been qualified in and are departmentally
"An officer should always attempt to resolve any
situation with the least amount of force necessary to
effectively bring the situation under control. An officer
should always exercise restraint, discretion, and good
judgment. However, it is primarily the action(s) of the
subject(s) and/or the totality of the circumstances that
determine what level of force is to be used. ..."
The policy authorizes the use of a Taser weapon for the
"1. To repel human and/or animal attacks
"2. To temporarily incapacitate violently resisting
"3. To defend other officers and/or citizens
"4. To maintain order in the jail or to subdue a violent
inmate or arrestee when lesser means of control have failed.
The Taser is not to be used on an inmate/arrestee who is only
being loud, boisterous, etc."
policy specifies that "[o]fficers will not use the taser
on subjects who are under physical restraint unless the
subject(s) are still violently resisting and lesser means of
controlling the subject(s) [have] failed."
undisputed that Key's employment was subject to the
Jefferson County Personnel Board Rules and Regulations. On
May 26, 2015, Key appealed his suspension to the Personnel
Board. The Personnel Board appointed a hearing officer who
conducted a hearing on August 27, 2015. On September 22,
2015, the hearing officer submitted a report and
recommendation to the Personnel Board, which contained
findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommended that
the Personnel Board uphold the 60-day suspension without pay.
The hearing officer provided the following summary of the
"1. Lieutenant Jason Wiggins: A report had been received
by Lt. Wiggins about a disruptive and unruly inmate at the
[Irondale] City Jail, who had been taken into custody after
causing a disturbance in the municipal court. Lt. Wiggins
explained that when he visited the jail on that occasion, he
found that particular inmate in the holding area. Several
other officers and a senior lead magistrate were also present
at that time. The inmate expressed displeasure about, among
other things, not being transported to the County Jail for
"Shortly thereafter, Lt. Wiggins, who was also serving
as the Interim Chief of Police at that time, left the
[Irondale] City Jail to attend an employee appreciation
banquet. He later received a call, as well as possibly a text
message, from [Key] that the inmate was combative and needed
to be placed in a restraint chair. Based on what he was aware
of at the time, Lt. Wiggins had no problem with how the
inmate had been treated, but he later learned that the inmate
was taken to a hospital after having been tased earlier that
evening by someone.
"Whenever a use of force occurs at the jail, a review is
routinely undertaken relative to how such force was
exercised. So he proceeded to locate the video recording of
what had occurred. When he succeeded in doing so, after
initially encountering some difficulty, what he saw concerned
him because it appeared that an excessive amount of force had
been used against the inmate. After discussing what had
occurred, an incident report was prepared that led to a
recommendation that [Key] be placed on administrative leave
"What seemed to bother Lt. Wiggins, after he had viewed
the video recording of the incident, was that even though a
de-escalation of the situation was underway, a taser had been
used on the inmate while he had been restrained in the chair.
"The police department's Use of Force Review
Committee later reviewed the video recording, and determined
that a 60-day suspension for Officer Key was appropriate
disciplinary action for the excessive use of force that had
been exercised by him against the inmate.
"During cross-examination, it was admitted by Lt.
Wiggins that the inmate had also kicked a door open at the
jail that struck another officer who was involved. Moreover,
the inmate had spat at officers that night, as well as
causing human waste to spill onto the floor of his jail cell.
At that time, he further acknowledged, spit masks were not
available to the officers who had been assigned to the jail.
"Nonetheless, Lt. Wiggins maintained that Officer Key
had been suspended simply because he exercised an excessive
level of force against the inmate that was in violation of
the department's policy guidelines.
"In any event, Lt. Wiggins never denied that he had
initially expressed his approval of how the inmate had been
treated by [Key] and his fellow officers. It was only after
he had the opportunity to view the video recording that he
changed his mind about what had occurred. Because of that, he
reached the conclusion that the tasing of the inmate had not
"2. Lieutenant Paul Kellogg: Lt. Kellogg was primarily
responsible for the operation of the [Irondale] City Jail at
that time. As such, he learned after the fact that one of the
prisoners had suffered a physical injury. While initially
everything seemed routine to him about how the matter was
handled, after Lt. Wiggins shared a video recording of what
had occurred at the jail when the prisoner was injured, an
investigation was initiated soon after the recording had been
reviewed by the two (2) of them. An Abuse of Force Review
Committee was then organized for the purpose of more closely
examining what had occurred. That committee assessed the
response of [Key] to [the inmate] because of his unruly and
disruptive, and even hostile, behavior.
"According to Lt. Kellogg, circumstances typically
dictate how much physical force an officer should utilize in
any specific situation with attention to whether there is an
escalation or de-escalation of relevant conditions. Sometimes
the use of a taser could be appropriate, even when a subject
has been restrained, if a properly trained officer is on the
scene. Moreover, even a mere verbal threat, when accompanied
by the ability to violently resist on the part of a subject,
can warrant a response that entails the use of physical
force. Ultimately, the Use of Force Review Committee
determined that ...