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Eleventh Circuit Identifies Limits to Qualified Immunity for a Search Related to an Arrest Warrant

On February 7, 2011, around 11:00 p.m., Deputy Kevin Casal and Deputy Teresa Pardinas, arrived at 4179 Valley Brook Road to serve an arrest warrant for Wesley Brand. Deputy Casal walked up to the house and told Mrs. Brand “he had a warrant for Wesley Brand, a 27–year–old white male.” Mrs. Brand was confused by the description because Wesley was 17 (not 27); was mixed race (not white); and had begun to live as a woman (not male). Despite the confusion, Deputy Casal attempted to enter the Brands’ house to search for Wesley. Mrs. Brand refused to let Deputy Casal come into the house because he didn't have a search warrant and because, she said, Wesley was already outside waiting for Deputy Casal. Deputy Casal responded by grabbing Mrs. Brand by the shirt to pull her from the doorway. As a result, the front part of Mrs. Brand's shirt ripped off, leaving her stomach, chest, and parts of her back exposed.

Shortly thereafter, Deputy Pardinas walked up to the front door and witnessed Mrs. Brand extremely upset and attempting to call 911. As Mrs. Brand began dialing, Deputy Pardinas tased her. Deputy Pardinas then ordered Mrs. Brand to lie flat on her stomach and began striking Mrs. Brands’ back in an attempt to get her to lie flat. Eight or nine officers arrived on the scene and were directed by Deputy Casal to search certain places in the house. Every officer refused to allow Mrs. Brand to put on a new shirt. As a result, Mrs. Brand was left exposed for an hour while the officers searched the house.

The Brands brought claims against the officers, alleging a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights when the officers entered their home without a search warrant, used excessive force against Mrs. Brand, and refused to allow Mrs. Brand to redress. Brand v. Casal, 877 F.3d 1253 (11th Cir. 2017). The Eleventh Circuit found that both Deputy Casal and Deputy Pardinas were entitled to qualified immunity for the search on the basis of the arrest warrant. To be entitled to qualified immunity an officer must have “a reasonable belief that the location to be searched is the suspect's dwelling, and that the suspect is within the residence at the time of entry.” Id. The Court found that it was reasonable for the officers to presume that Wesley Brand was home because it was late and Mr. Brand’s car was in the driveway.

However, the Eleventh Circuit held that Deputy Pardinas was not entitled to qualified immunity for the Brands’ excessive force claim. An officer's use of force is excessive under the Fourth Amendment if the use of force was “objectively [un]reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting” the officer. Id. at 1263. Deputy Pardinas did not see or know about the altercation between Mrs. Brand and Deputy Casal. Therefore, when Deputy Pardinas tased Mrs. Brand, the force used was “clearly excessive” because Mrs. Brand was non-violent and had not resisted arrest.

The court also found that a reasonable officer would have known that requiring Mrs. Brand to remain exposed while numerous officers searched her home, for no legitimate law-enforcement purpose, would violate Mrs. Brands’ constitutional protections. Id. at 1270. Officers may require a suspect to remain exposed while they assess whether a threat is present; however, absent an important law-enforcement purpose, an officer must allow the suspect to redress after determining that there was no threat present. Id. Therefore, the officers clearly violated Mrs. Brand's right to bodily privacy.

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