The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a severe loss to James King, a Michigan man who was brutalized by Grand Rapids police officers who mistook him for a fugitive.
The Detroit News reports that the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision was penned by Justice Clarence Thomas. In it, Thomas and his colleagues found that King’s claims against the federal government—made under the Federal Tort Claims Act—invalidated a separate lawsuit alleging that the Grand Rapids Police Department violated his civil rights.
King, adds MLive.com, was arrested in 2014 while walking down the sidewalk.
King was, at the time, only 21 years old, and was enrolled at Grand Valley State University. He was confronted by plainclothes police officers and FBI agent, who mistook him for a man wanted on a felony warrant.
Law enforcement officials say they tried to show King their identification badges and explain the situation, but that King quickly became combative and tried to fight them.
King, on the other hand, claims he did not understand the situation. In his account, King stated he was thrown against an SUV, after which unidentified assailants demanded he hand over his wallet and identification. Afraid he was being mugged, King attempted to escape.
In the ensuing confrontation, King sustained “noticeable” facial injuries before being taken into custody.
While police reports said that King was “crazed” and “growling like an animal,” their own briefs seem to provide some backing to King’s interpretation of events.
Grand Rapids Police Detective Todd Allen, for instance, said that King tried to escape his colleagues as soon as an FBI agent grabbed King’s arm.
“King then spun towards us squaring up in a combative manner. He began yelling that ‘we did not want to do this’ and that he had ‘3 buddies down the street that were going to come help him,'” Allen wrote.
King later told responding officers that “anyone can buy a badge,” and that he thought he was being robbed.
King later tried to sue the federal government, as well as the involved officers and FBI agent.
However, the Supreme Court found that a plaintiff cannot sue individual government employees if that employee’s alleged misconduct was based on “the same subject matter” of a final judgment issued under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
While King’s attorney, Patrick Jaicomo, tried to argue that the two lawsuits would not be duplicative, his suggestions were discarded by the high court.
Despite the unfavorable finding, Jaicomo phrased the ruling as a win, opining that it prepares the next stage in King’s case.
“Although today’s decision appears at first glance to deal a blow to constitutional accountability, in reality the Supreme Court teed up the central issue in this case for the federal appeals court to reconsider,” Jaicomo said.
“It is asking the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to weigh in on whether centuries of common-law practice should apply — or be abandoned — when the issue involves constitutional violations committed by federal police.”
Jaicomo said that, when King’s case finally makes it to court, he believes his client will get his due recompense.
“When it does, our client James King, the innocent college student the officers choked and beat in 2014, will be able to persuasively argue why he deserves a day in court.”