Barton, the plaintiff in this case, shot a BB gun at the legs of his trampoline to scare away a cat that had been clawing at his daughter. He then yelled to a neighbor “the next cat that I see in my yard will be a dead one.” The neighbor called 911 and said that Barton had told her that “your grey cat … got shot in the head.” She said she did not know if it was a BB gun and admitted she had not seen the injured cat and that the cat could not have been hers. The police dispatcher then put out: a woman said that her neighbor was shooting cats and that she was not sure what type of weapon was used. Animal Control arrived and spoke to Barton, who refused to come outside or provide identification. He explained that he had shot at a trampoline with a BB gun to scare the cat. The officer saw neither weapons nor injured cats.
Minutes later, eight officers arrived, produced weapons, and surrounded Barton’s house. Barton passed his identification through the door. Moments later, fearing that Barton was grabbing a gun, one officer ripped open the screen door and went into the house. The officer then threw Barton up against the counter. Barton was then handcuffed and transported to the station where he was strip-searched while handcuffed to the wall above his head despite complaints of shoulder injury. He was released on bond three hours later and the charges were dismissed.
Barton sued in a §1983 action for illegal entry, unreasonable arrest and prosecution, excessive force, and First Amendment retaliation. The court granted Vann summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit disagreed and reversed, holding that the warrantless entry into the home without an exception to the warrant requirement violated clearly established law. Specifically, the court noted that a phone call reporting criminal activity, without corroboration, does not provide probable cause for an arrest. A reasonable jury could find that the officers’ actions violated Barton’s right to be free from excessive force during the arrest and that the officer used excessive force after arresting Barton.
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