$1 million sought in a use of force lawsuit against a Topeka police officer; abandoned town as a defendant

The Topeka city government has been dropped as a defendant in the police use of force lawsuit that Timothy C. Harris is suing for $1 million plus expenses and legal fees related to an incident during from which his jaw was broken.

Harris continues to pursue a separate part of the lawsuit alleging unreasonable use of force by Topeka Police Officer Christopher Janes, who has his own attorney and is additionally defended by the city.

The case is set to go to trial by jury starting May 31 in Topeka, with the trial expected to last two to three days, according to a pretrial order issued Jan. 14 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Teresa J. James.

Harris seeks compensation in the amount of $1 million and payment of his expenses and attorneys’ fees, which total $197,120.55, according to the order.

He said Janes is seeking payment for his own expenses and attorney fees he paid to outside counsel, which total $37,688.05.

Andrew M. Stroth, managing director of the Chicago-based Action Injury Law Group, filed a two-count lawsuit in September 2018 claiming the constitutional rights of Harris, who is black, were violated during his arrest. . January 2018 around 2600 SE on the 10th.

Stroth’s firm also represents the families of Wichita residents Cedric Lofton, 17, who died in September after a struggle with officers at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Center, and Andrew Finch, 28, who police in Wichita was fatally shot after driving to his home on a false emergency report in December 2017.

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Stroth said on Wednesday, “As captured on video, Timothy Harris was beaten unnecessarily by a Topeka police officer and was seriously injured. He will continue his fight for justice in United States District Court in Kansas.”

The first count of Harris’s lawsuit alleges excessive use of force by Janes. A federal judge ruled that Janes was not entitled to qualified immunity in this case.

Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions from liability for civil damages if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have knowledge.

However, Janes has not waived his qualified immunity defense as he continues to fight the lawsuit, according to the January 14 court order.

The defendant in the second count was the city, which the suit says provided deficient training and had inadequate policies, said Gretchen Spiker, the city’s communications director.

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The count against the city was “dropped”, according to the January 14 order.

Still, the Topeka City Attorney’s Office continues to work with its outside attorney to defend Janes, Spiker said.

Janes continues to be employed by the Topeka city government as a police officer, she said. The city self-insures in matters involving these employees.

“This is an ongoing litigation and as such the city has no further comment,” Spiker added.

Timothy C. Harris said he couldn’t resist

Topeka Police body camera video captured this image of Timothy C. Harris during an incident in which he broke his jaw. Harris is pursuing a case-related civil lawsuit against a Topeka police officer.

In the incident that sparked the chase, Topeka police say Harris and Janes got into an altercation while Janes sought to investigate an allegation that Harris committed a robbery.

The Topeka Capital-Journal used an open recording request to obtain body camera video of the September 2018 incident.

In the video, Janes appears to approach Harris’ vehicle due to a parking issue.

Janes, Harris and a woman in the car engage in an exchange over parking and another person’s possessions, the video shows.

Eventually, Harris asks, “So what’s going on, sir?”

“You’re detained, that’s what happens,” Janes replies.

The passenger asks: “Detained for what?”

Harris gets out of the car and the officer says, “I didn’t ask you to get out of the car.”

Moments later, Harris is knocked to the ground.

Janes tells Harris to stop trying to get up repeatedly.

“I’m not trying to get up — you’re laying on top of me,” Harris said at one point.

“Why are you hitting him?” shouts the woman.

About six minutes into the game, reinforcements arrive and an ambulance is requested.

An officer tells Harris he is bleeding.

Harris’ face appears to have been pepper sprayed and bloodied.

“It’s ridiculous,” Harris says. “I wasn’t resisting or anything.”

“You absolutely were,” Janes told him.

Police say Janes acted reasonably

Then-Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran, who is now acting city manager, said the department reviewed the incident and determined that the force used was reasonable for the situation at hand.

Harris was arrested on an outstanding warrant charging him with breaching probation terms, which were imposed after he was convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia and interfering with a police officer. law enforcement.

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Harris was also charged with crimes involving his actions related to the altercation. He was convicted of interfering with a law enforcement officer and parallel parking more than 12 inches from the curb, Topeka City Court records show.

Other charges against Harris were dismissed, including battery by a law enforcement officer and disobeying a lawful police order.

The civil suit filed on Harris’ behalf in September 2018 alleges he was beaten and his jaw was broken. He alleges that Harris’ Fourth Amendment right to seizure and 14th Amendment right to due process were violated.

Judge rejected qualified immunity argument

In April 2019, Janes requested that Harris’s charge against Janes be dismissed, saying he was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of force was not an “arbitrary governmental action” and did not violate Harris’ constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Sam Crow rejected that argument in an August 2019 ruling, saying Janes was not entitled to qualified immunity.

Crow wrote that a reasonable jury might find that Janes violated Harris’ Fourth Amendment rights because of the force he used on Harris while handcuffed and not resisting.

Janes should have known that, according to legal precedent, “it was unconstitutional to shoot the arrested person face first, apply knee pressure to his back, punch him in the face and spray him with pepper spray when the arrested person is restrained by handcuffs. , cooperates by walking to the patrol car and does not resist,” Crow wrote.

Crow’s decision was appealed to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

He dismissed the appeal in July 2020, saying he lacked jurisdiction to consider Janes’ appeal.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Lawsuit alleging unreasonable use of force by Topeka officer continues

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