The Ferguson cops charged Henry Davis with destruction of property because he bled on their uniforms when they beat him. Then, as if fearing it might be outdone in ridiculousness, a federal district court ruled that Davis could not sue the cops for violating his Fourth Amendment rights because they had not injured him badly enough as he lay handcuffed on the jailhouse floor, a working man arrested on a traffic warrant in a case of mistaken identity.
“As unreasonable as it may sound, a reasonable officer could have believed that beating a subdued and compliant Mr. Davis while causing only a concussion, scalp lacerations and bruising with almost no permanent damage did not violate the Constitution,” the district court ruled in tossing out the case.
Davis appealed and his attorney James Schottel responded to absurdity with legal reasoning. He argued that the decisive factor was not the seriousness of Davis’s injuries but the nature of the officers’ actions. The district court had ruled that the officers enjoyed “official immunity” because they “acted within their discretion and caused only de minimis [slight] injuries.” Schottel contended that official immunity “does not apply to discretionary acts done in bad faith or with malice.”
The appeals court could not have been clearer in its response on Tuesday. “We agree.”