Local

Police Accused Of Excessive Force In Small Crime

View Comments
istockphoto

istockphoto

Get Breaking News First

Receive News, Politics, and Entertainment Headlines Each Morning.
Sign Up

STURGIS, Mich. (AP) - The case seemed simple: Solve the misdemeanor theft of a $14.99 phone charger. Three years later, it could be costly to the city of Sturgis.

A federal appeals court said Friday that a jury should decide if officers used excessive force against a young man suspected of shoplifting and his mother when they entered a home without a warrant.

“Shoplifting of this sort offers no reason by itself for banging a suspect’s head against a wall,” said a three-judge panel at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court said the officers aren’t immune to a lawsuit, affirming a decision by U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist in Grand Rapids. The ruling means the case likely will go to trial or be settled.

In 2010, a Walgreens store in Sturgis, 50 miles south of Kalamazoo, reported the theft of a phone charger. The package was found in the store, but the part of the charger that attaches to the phone was cut off. Charles Smith, then 20, was confronted by a store manager but declined to stay and walked home.

Two officers, Mark Stoneburner and Damon Knapp, arrived at Smith’s home. Stoneburner entered the home and pulled Smith outside to a deck. Smith alleges that his head was pressed against a wall as the officers arrested him and bent his body over a railing.

“Dueling accounts create a question of fact about whether Charles resisted arrest,” the appeals court said.

Lawyers for the officers argued that they may have needed to get into the home without a warrant to prevent possible destruction of evidence. The court wasn’t impressed.

“Tossing the charger out the window would have accomplished little. This was not Venice. It was canal-free Sturgis, Michigan,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote.

Sturgis Public Safety Director Dave Northrop said the court’s decision was a “shock.” He said the officers didn’t violate Smith’s rights.

And the missing phone charger? The case was closed when Smith pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor, disturbing the peace.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

View Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,975 other followers