Briceno v. Williams: Qualified Immunity

Date Filed: 11/17/2021

Briceno v. Williams

Challenging Qualified Immunity

As Mr. Briceno was helping his mobility-impaired friend cross the street, San Diego Police Officer Blake Williams arrived, exited his police vehicle, and began to approach Mr. Briceno while issuing commands. Mr. Briceno provided Officer Williams with his personal identification card, but Officer Williams then pushed, grabbed, and punched Mr. Briceno, forcing him to flee out of concern for his own safety. Officer Williams chased Mr. Briceno and tackled him, causing Mr. Briceno to fall to the ground face-first and with his hands pinned underneath his own body. Officer Williams then punched and kneed Mr. Briceno until he lost consciousness.  

Mr. Briceno filed a pro se lawsuit alleging that Officer Williams used excessive force. Officer Williams moved for summary judgment on the merits of Mr. Briceno’s Fourth Amendment claim and on qualified immunity grounds. The District Court held that Officer Williams was entitled to qualified immunity for tackling Mr. Briceno, but not for punching him. Officer Williams then filed an appeal, challenging the district court’s decision.   

Mr. Briceno retained Rights Behind Bars and LDF to represent him on appeal. On November 17, 2021, LDF filed a brief in the 9th Circuit arguing that the District Court was correct to deny Officer Williams qualified immunity and that its decision should be affirmed on appeal. Officer Williams’ force was clearly unreasonable, he did not suspect Mr. Briceno of a serious crime, he could not reasonably have perceived Mr. Briceno as a threat, Mr. Briceno was not resisting at the time Officer Williams struck him unconscious, and alternative methods to detain Mr. Briceno were readily available to officers. Moreover, existing 9th Circuit precedent put Officer Williams on notice as to the illegality of his conduct.  

LDF presented oral argument before a panel of the 9th Circuit on March 9, 2022. On May 20, 2022, the panel issued a decision affirming 2-1 the district court’s denial of summary judgment to Officer Williams and allowing Mr. Briceno’s civil rights claim to proceed. The court held that, on the summary judgment factual record, Officer Williams used an unreasonable amount of force when he punched Mr. Briceno while Mr. Briceno was face-down on the ground. Officer Williams’s violation of Mr. Briceno’s Fourth Amendment right was clearly established by Ninth Circuit precedent, precluding qualified immunity.   

End Qualified Immunity

End Qualified Immunity Qualified immunity prevents law enforcement from being held personally accountable for violating people’s rights. It allows law enforcement to cross legal lines

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