Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Jury Trial for Sturgis Police Officers

Last month, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals determined that a jury should decide if two Sturgis police officers, Damon Knapp and Mark Stoneburner, used excessive force against a young man and his mother when entering their home following an alleged shoplifting incident without a warrant.

Charles Smith, 20, was a suspect in an alleged shoplifting incident at a Sturgis Walgreens; he was suspected of stealing a $14.99 phone charger, a misdemeanor theft. In 2010, the Walgreens store reported to police that a phone charger had been stolen. According to a news article at the Detroit News, someone found a package in the store with a portion of the charger cut off. When confronted by the store manager, Charles Smith walked home and did not remain at the store until police arrived.

Later when Knapp and Stoneburner arrived at Smith’s home, Stoneburner allegedly entered without a warrant, pulling the suspect onto a deck where it is alleged by Smith that officers slammed his head against a railing while handcuffing him. A 12-page opinion issued by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals stated that “Shoplifting of this sort offers no reason by itself for banging a suspect’s head against a wall.” The panel also affirmed a ruling made by a district court judge that the officers involved are not immune to litigation.

Knapp and Stoneburner’s attorney maintained that the suspect was resisting arrest; the federal appeals court found that the decision as to whether the officers or Smith are giving a true account of the incident should be left up to a jury.

The opinion ultimately found that if Smith did not resist arrest, the officers may have used excessive force. Smith’s mother also claimed that she was injured while trying to intervene during the incident at the home.

As all seasoned Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know, police officers are not beyond making errors in judgment. Mistakes can be made at nearly any point in the course of an arrest, or even at trial.

Individuals who have been wrongly accused or convicted of crime they did not commit should consult with a capable and experienced Michigan criminal appeals lawyer right away, so that work can begin to determine the value of your claim.

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