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Court: Officer who stomped on suspect's ankle cannot be sued

Court: Officer who stomped on suspect's ankle cannot be sued

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled Thursday that a Davenport Police officer may not be sued for using excessive force when he stomped on and broke the ankle of a suspect who was resisting arrest.

Juan Dontae Shelton, 36, sued five of the officers who attempted to take him into custody in connection with the Oct. 15, 2015, beating of Joshua Sutton, then 41, at the Chorus Line night club, 4128 Brady St.

Shelton and his brothers, Kamden Shelton, 29, and Trenton Shelton, 34, each were charged with one count of attempted murder and willful injury causing serious injury. Trenton Shelton also was charged with assault while participating in a felony.

Kamden Shelton was arrested the day of the incident.

Trenton Shelton was arrested in December 2015 in Mississippi by the U.S. Marshals Service. He was charged in federal court for failing to register as a sex offender and in November 2016, was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.

Juan Shelton was arrested the day after the fight by Davenport police but claimed his Fourth Amendment rights were violated during the arrest. 

According to the record of the Court of Appeals, Davenport police obtained an arrest warrant for Juan Shelton the day after the incident. That afternoon, two officers, Errol Walker and Gil Proehl, watched Juan Shelton as he left a Rock Island business and get into his car.

Walker and Proehl approached the vehicle and ordered Shelton out of the car. When Shelton refused, Proehl attempted to pull Shelton out. Walker saw a loaded magazine of bullets in the front seat, and Proehl saw that Shelton was sitting on a handgun.

Walker and Proehl backed away and drew their weapons, but Shelton started his car and sped away.

Walker, Proehl and several more officers from Davenport and Rock Island chased Shelton at high speed.

Davenport Police Officer Brian Stevens joined the pursuit that crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa.

Police eventually found Shelton walking on the street with his hands in the air, but he refused to obey police commands.

The scene was captured on video.

Two officers, Dennis Colclassure and Scott Lansing tackled Shelton. Three others joined to help restrain and handcuff Shelton. Shelton refused to surrender and kept his hands underneath his body, a position called “turtling.” One officer felt a hard object in Shelton’s front pocket, which turned out to be a cellphone.

About 30 seconds after Shelton was tackled, Officers Aric Robinson and Stevens approached.

During the fight on the ground, Stevens stomped on Shelton’s ankle.

Shelton was hospitalized for several injuries including a broken left ankle.

Stevens claimed the video recording showed he stepped on Shelton’s healthy right ankle, but the video was not conclusive on that point, so the appeals court assumed that Stevens' action caused the broken ankle.

Stevens also asserted that Shelton was trying to get back to his feet, but the court said that is not conclusively established by the video, so it was not considered in the decision.

Shelton sued the officers in Scott County District Court. The court ruled that all officers except Stevens were entitled to qualified immunity.

As to the other officers, the district court said that, “Shelton did not comply with instructions from officers to give them his hands, had a cell phone in his right pants pocket that could be mistaken for a gun and made movements which could be construed as attempts to access something in his front pants pocket.”

The district court denied Stevens’ motion for summary judgment on the ground that “a reasonable officer in the situation would have known the force used violated Shelton’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.” The court said that when Stevens approached “Shelton was being restrained by at least five other officers.” 

Stevens said he was trying to distract Shelton to keep him from endangering other officers because he could not see Shelton’s hands.

The appeals court said in its ruling that Stevens’ alleged use of force was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. However, the court also said that Stevens’ action fell within a zone sometimes referred to as a hazy border between excessive and acceptable force.

The court said even though several officers were on top of Shelton, he continued to “turtle up” so that at least one hand was free and potentially available to access any weapon that might be concealed in his midsection.

Some use of force was reasonable, the court said, and constitutional distinctions among a choke-hold, a radio bang to the head and an unreasonable ankle-stomp — all designed to get Shelton to surrender his hands — are hazy enough to warrant qualified immunity for Stevens.

Juan Shelton pleaded guilty to a charge of willful injury causing serious injury in October of 2017. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a habitual offender, with a mandatory three years in prison. He was released from prison and placed on work release on March 16, 2020.

Kamden Shelton entered an Alford Plea in June of 2016 to the charge of willful injury causing serious injury and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes that prosecutors likely have enough evidence to win a conviction. He was paroled from prison Jan. 3, 2020.

Trenton Shelton at the time had been arrested by U.S. Marshals on a federal charge of failing to register as a sex offender. He appeared in Scott County District Court on Jan. 18, 2019, where he pleaded guilty to the charges of willful injury causing serious injury and assault while participating in a felony. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a habitual offender, with three years mandatory, on the willful injury charge and to a consecutive term of five years on the assault charge. He was placed on work release Jan. 31, 2020

Trenton Shelton was returned to prison when he violated his parole and was arrested on a charge of willful injury causing serious injury in a domestic violence case on Feb. 14. A pre-trial conference in that case is set for Aug. 7.

As for Sutton, during court hearings, his fiancée, Angela Hess, said that the assault left him unable to see, hear or speak and that he lives in a 24-hour care facility where he will stay the rest of his life. She said the two had been together for more than 13 years and had a daughter and son together. 

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