The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Wednesday that a Pittsburgh police officer who slammed an unarmed Black teen into a wall is not entitled to qualified immunity.
The case arose in 2013 when the El brothers were stopped by Pittsburgh Police Lieutenant Reyne Kacsuta outside of a convenience store on the suspicion they had synthetic marijuana. The brothers did not resist or flee when stopped. They emptied their pockets and no marijuana was found.
When backup officers Frank Welling and Ryan Warnock arrived on the scene, Welling picked up Will El’s IS and tossed it to the ground after reading it. His brother Beyshaud attempted to grab the ID and was prevented by the officer. The brother complained of harassment, and Welling became agitated. Will El stood to hear what the officer was saying and when he took two steps in the direction of the officers Welling grabbed him and slammed him against the wall. This caused Beyshaud to stand to defend his brother, and he was tased. When the dust settled the brothers were arrested. Beyshaud was taken to the hospital, and Will was taken to jail. The brothers both suffered injuries.
The appeals court found that summary judgment was appropriate in favor of Kacsuta because she did not engage in the assault, and she could not have reasonably been expected to protect the brothers. Then the court turned to Officer Welling. The court found that while the district judge used overly broad definitions to his their conclusion, the conclusion was nevertheless correct. After analyzing the video evidence, the court found that a reasonable jury could find that Will El’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
As for the third officer, Warnock, the court did not comment on his appeal of the summary judgment order because they lacked jurisdiction to do so.
Judge Phipps wrote a partial dissent stating that he did not agree with the standard applied by the majority and that the use of force by Welling was unconstitutionally excessive.