Use of force trial against Topeka police officer begins Tuesday
The Topeka city government and a federal judge disagree on whether a white Topeka police officer violated the constitutional rights of a black man.
This week, the case will go to a jury in federal court in Topeka.
The city found the force used by Officer Chris Janes was reasonable in January 2018 when he arrested Topekan Timothy C. Harris, 38, who says he suffered injuries including a broken jaw.
Andrew M. Stroth, managing director of the Chicago-based civil rights law firm Action Injury Law Group, filed a lawsuit eight months later on behalf of Harris, which will go to trial on Tuesday.
Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Crow ruled in August 2019 that a reasonable jury could find that Janes violated Harris’ Fourth Amendment rights because of the force he used on Harris while his hands were cuffed behind his back and that he was not resisting.
This is when the trial against a Topeka police officer begins
The trial begins Tuesday at 9 a.m. and is to be preceded at 8:15 a.m. by a final pre-hearing conference.
The trial is expected to last two to three days, according to a pretrial order issued on January 14.
Harris is seeking $1 million in compensation and payment of his expenses and attorneys’ fees, which as of mid-January totaled $197,120.55, according to the order.
It said Janes was seeking payment for his own expenses and for attorney fees he paid to outside counsel, which at the time totaled $37,688.05.
Janes is represented by Great Bend-based law firm Watkins Calcara, Chartered.
Although the Topeka city government is no longer a defendant in the case, the city attorney’s office helps represent Janes, who continues to be employed by the city as a police officer.
The city is self-insured in matters involving such employees, said Gretchen Spiker, its communications director.
Harris’ face appeared pepper sprayed, bloodied
In the incident that sparked the chase, Topeka police say Harris and Janes had an altercation near 2600 SE 10 as Janes sought to investigate an allegation that Harris committed a robbery.
The Capital-Journal used an open records request to obtain body camera video of the September 2018 incident.
In the video, Janes approaches a stopped car in which Harris is sitting in the driver’s seat.
Janes, Harris and a woman in the car exchange words about another person’s possessions and a parking issue regarding the car he is in, the video shows.
Eventually, Harris asks, “So what’s going on, sir?”
“You’re detained, that’s what happens,” Janes replies.
The woman asks, “Detained for what?”
Harris takes off his jacket as he sits in the front seat, then gets out of the car.
Janes calls on her police radio for backup to respond using lights and a siren.
“Put your hands behind your back,” he told Harris. “I didn’t ask you to get out of the car.”
Janes then cuffs Harris’s hands behind her back.
“Thank you,” Harris said. “Are you happy now?”
Janes begins to accompany Harris to his patrol car before Harris asks, “What are you doing?” and Janes replies, “I’m trying to get you to my car.”
“No, you’re not,” Harris says. “I walk with you.”
Janes then takes Harris to the ground.
Janes yells at Harris several times to stop trying to get up.
“I’m not trying to get up — you’re laying on top of me,” Harris says.
At this point, the woman got out of the car and told Janes to get off Harris.
“I can’t breathe,” Harris says.
“Yes, you can,” Janes replies.
About six minutes into the game, reinforcements arrive and an ambulance is requested.
Harris’ face appears to have been pepper sprayed and bloodied.
“You beat him,” the woman said.
“It’s ridiculous,” Harris says. “I wasn’t resisting or anything.”
“You absolutely were,” Janes told him.
Lawsuit alleges Topeka officer beat Timothy Harris and broke his jaw
Janes arrested Harris on an outstanding warrant charging him with breaching probation terms, which had already been imposed after he was found guilty of possessing drug paraphernalia and interfering with a law enforcement officer. order.
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 assaulting a law enforcement officer and disobeying a lawful police order.
Former Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran, who is now acting city manager, said the police department reviewed the incident and determined that the force used was reasonable for the situation at hand.
The civil lawsuit attorney Stroth filed on Harris’ behalf alleges he was beaten and his jaw was smashed. He alleges that Harris’ Fourth Amendment right to seizure and 14th Amendment right to due process were violated.
A Chicago firm sued a previous use of force case against the city of Topeka
Stroth’s law firm in May 2018 filed a lawsuit on behalf of Topekan family members Dominique White seeking more than $10 million after Topeka police officers Justin Mackey and Michael Cruse shot and killed White, 30 years, in August 2017 in East Topeka.
Count 1 of that lawsuit alleged that Mackey and Cruse shot White without cause. The second argued that the city and its police department had improperly trained the officers.
A federal judge issued an order in September 2020 removing Mackey and Cruse as defendants while finding they had qualified immunity from suit.
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.
A federal judge last November then dismissed White’s family’s lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled and the city won’t pay any money to family members.
City of Topeka no longer charged in Timothy Harris case
One of the charges in the two-count lawsuit that Stroth filed on behalf of Harris names as its defendant the city of Topeka, which she says provided its police officers with deficient training and had policies inadequate. This charge was later dismissed.
The lawsuit’s other count alleges that Janes used excessive force. Janes sought to have that charge dismissed, saying he was entitled to qualified immunity.
But U.S. District Judge Crow, who was 93 at the time and continues to hold senior judge status today at 96, refused to grant Janes qualified immunity.
He wrote that Janes should have known that “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 gas peppered when the arrested person is handcuffed, cooperates by walking to the patrol car and does not resist.”
Janes appealed Crow’s decision to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
He dismissed the appeal in July 2020, saying he lacked jurisdiction to consider it.
Janes has not waived his qualified immunity defense as he continues to fight the lawsuit, according to the court order in the January 14 case.
The list of prosecution witnesses contains four names; the defendant lists six
Four people are named on the list Stroth filed with the court this month, identifying the witnesses he intends to call.
They are Harris, Janes, Ariel Gatewood and Stormont Vail Health records custodian, whose name has not been given.
The defendant’s witness list includes the names of Janes and six other Topeka police officers who are expected to be called.
He also identifies Gatewood, two other Topeka police officers and four Shawnee County sheriff’s deputies as people who may need to be called.
Lawyers representing Harris and Janes filed separate motions on May 10 asking the court to bar mention at trial of matters they considered irrelevant, including specific past situations involving Harris or Janes.
No record could be found as of Friday night of Crabtree’s decision on those motions.
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.