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U.S. Supreme Court Revives Lawsuit Accusing St. Louis Police Of Excessive Force

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Kaz Fantone
/
NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court last week gave new life to a case involving a man who died in St. Louis police custody. Nicholas Gilbert, a 27-year-old homeless man, was arrested by police in 2015 for misdemeanors including trespassing and occupying a building. He died after a physical confrontation with the officers in his holding cell.

His parents sued the city two years later, stating that police used excessive force toward their son. The suit cited the officers’ use of prone restraint: Gilbert was handcuffed with his legs shackled together when officers moved him to a prone position, face down on the floor. They put pressure on Gilbert’s back and torso even as he called out: “It hurts. Stop.” After 15 minutes in that position, he stopped breathing.

The U.S. District Court dismissed the lawsuit, and the appellate court affirmed its decision, saying the officers did not apply “unconstitutionally excessive” force against Gilbert. Now the Supreme Court wants the 8th Circuit to revisit those claims.

Kevin Carnie Jr. of the Simon Law Firm is the lead lawyer representing the Gilbert family in St. Louis. He joined Thursday's St. Louis on the Air to explain the impact of the court’s ruling.

U.S. Supreme Court Revives Lawsuit Accusing St. Louis Police Of Excessive Force
Attorney Kevin Carnie Jr. of the Simon Law Firm discusses Lombardo v. City of St. Louis.
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“The Supreme Court is saying: ‘Hey, look at the circumstances. It can't be that it's always constitutional, that it's always reasonable to put asphyxiating pressure on somebody just because they're struggling,'” Carnie Jr. said.

“This is a case about what's reasonable and what's unreasonable,” he continued, and reiterated that if police felt the need to further restrain Gilbert, despite already being handcuffed and shackled, “then hold [him] on a side, follow the well-known guidance that's out there about how to safely restrain someone.

“I think police officers have a very difficult job, and I think the lines are hard to see. [But] I think it would be great if the courts could draw some clearer lines — I think everybody would approve of that.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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