Barine Deezia’s excessive force lawsuit can go forward against the Lincoln police officers who arrested him, a federal judge has ruled.
An assistant city attorney had argued that the officers who approached Deezia and his friends downtown at about bar close March 20, 2016, used a reasonable amount of force under the circumstances and that the case should be dismissed.
But, in an order this week, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf said questions remained for a jury.
"Whether a reasonable officer would have interpreted plaintiff's actions as 'active resistance' or an 'attempt to flee' is a disputed question of fact that a jury must decide," he wrote.
Last year, a Lancaster County jury found Deezia not guilty of obstructing and resisting arrest in an interaction that started when officers spotted a woman who appeared drunk in Deezia's group.
Police — trying to determine who overserved her — asked where she had been drinking and were told she was fine, didn't have any alcohol at a bar and was going home with a designated driver.
Four officers followed the group as it crossed O Street to 14th Street and sat down outside Jimmy John's, and kept asking.
As police kept trying to talk to the woman, Deezia told her she didn't have to talk to them.
There is dispute about what happened next, despite street-camera footage of the scene. The three Lincoln officers involved wore body cameras, but none were turned on until after Deezia was on the ground and unconscious.
The available footage skipped at the crucial moment, when Officer Aaron Peth grabbed Deezia's arm to move him away, and the immediate aftermath.
[Watch: Surveillance footage from case that accuses Lincoln police of excessive force.]
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Deezia said he tried to move back to get away from the officers and ended up being pushed into the front window of Jimmy John's, causing him to lose his balance and stumble.
Police say Deezia was resisting arrest.
When an officer attempted an "inside takedown" maneuver, Deezia's head hit the sidewalk, knocking him out, and his shoulder was fractured.
"When plaintiff regained consciousness, he was lying face-down in a pool of blood with an officer's knee in his back," Kopf said.
He said it was clear that the officers were lawfully permitted to ask members of Deezia's group questions as they crossed the street after leaving the bar, and that Deezia had the right to refuse to answer officers' repeated questions and tell his friend she didn't need to either.
However, he said, when another officer blocked the only opening into the fenced dining area, he communicated to them they weren't free to leave.
Kopf said both sides agree that Deezia hadn't been aggressive until officers made physical contact with him. All he'd done up to that point was verbally refuse to provide information to officers, not itself a crime.
He said neither Deezia nor his friends appeared to be armed, dangerous or a threat to the security of the officers or the public. And he wasn't running from the scene.
"Plaintiff has presented sufficient proof in support of his claim, if believed, to allow a reasonable jury to find that after 'seizing' plaintiff ... the officers used a degree of force in arresting him for two misdemeanors that was not 'objectively reasonable,'" the judge wrote.
The case hasn't yet been set for trial.