FORREST v. PRINE (August 31, 2010)

In responding to a 911 call, the Rock Island County Sheriff's police came upon Roger Forrest. Forrest was uncooperative and belligerent. After he struck an officer, the police employed a taser several times to subdue him. He was arrested and charged with a felony. Pursuant to County procedure, he was subject to a strip search. Forrest refused to cooperate, instead pacing back and forth in a small room, shouting obscenities and insulting the officers present. One of those officers, Michael Prine, warned him on several occasions that he would use a taser again if Forrest did not comply with the search. Eventually, he did use the taser. The testimony differs on this point. Prine and other officers testified that he aimed the taser at Forrest's back -- Forrest testified that Prine aimed at his face. In any event, one of the darts did hit his face. He fell and suffered a head injury. Forrest brought an action pursuant to § 1983 against Officer Prine. He complained of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Magistrate Judge Gorman (C.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Prine. Forrest appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Posner, Ripple, and Kanne affirmed. The Court first commented on the basis for Forrest's claim. The Fourth Amendment grants certain rights to be free from excessive force but applies only in the search and seizure context. The Court admitted that it had not precisely defined the temporal contours of Fourth Amendment protection but concluded that allegations arising in the pretrial detention process, such as Forrest's, are clearly outside its temporal bounds. On the other end of the spectrum, the Eighth Amendment protects sentenced prisoners from claims of unnecessary or excessive force or punishment. Forrest's claims arise in the pretrial detainee context and are governed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In analyzing Forrest's claim, the Court applied an Eighth Amendment approach. The due process clause provides at least as much (and maybe more -- but Forrest did not argue so) protection as the Eighth Amendment. The test under the Eighth Amendment is whether the force is "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." The relevant factors include the need for and amount of force, the existence of a threat, any effort to use less force, and the extent of any injury. Applying that test here, the Court concluded that no reasonable factfinder could find Prine's use of force impermissible. Forrest was a large man in a small space, pacing and shouting, threatening and swearing, clenching his fists and refusing to follow orders. Prine warned him several times that he would use the taser if Forrest did not follow instructions. Finally, the Court refused Forrest's invitation to infer some malicious intent from the mere fact that one dart struck him in the face. There is simply no evidence to support such an inference.