Getzen v. Long: Qualified Immunity

Date Filed: 02/22/2022

Getzen v. Long

Challenging Qualified Immunity

Mr. Getzen was sitting on the bathroom floor of the apartment where he was staying, with his hands behind his neck when Deputy Jeff Long and his partner of the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office entered the bathroom with weapons drawn. Long and his partner were responding to a report that the unarmed Mr. Getzen was refusing to leave the apartment after a verbal altercation with the complainant.  After Mr. Getzen did not respond to conflicting commands, Deputy Long tased Mr. Getzen in dart mode and then in drive-stun mode and pepper sprayed him twice, causing Mr. Getzen to slump to the floor and rendering him immobile. Deputy Long then dragged Mr. Getzen out of the bathroom by his feet, injuring Mr. Getzen’s head by knocking it on a doorframe along the way. Deputy Long’s use of pepper spray blinded Mr. Getzen for 16 hours. The multiple taser deployments left Mr. Getzen with residual breathing problems as well as a heart injury. 

Mr. Getzen filed a pro se lawsuit against Deputy Long, alleging violation of his right to be free from excessive force. Deputy Long moved for summary judgment and argued he was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of force, pepper-spraying and tasing Mr. Getzen, was justified, and because no clearly established law indicated that this level of force was a constitutional violation. The district court denied Deputy Long qualified immunity, holding that there was extensive case law prohibiting the use of such force on a passive individual. Deputy Long then filed an interlocutory appeal, challenging the district court’s decision.   

Mr. Getzen retained Rights Behind Bars and LDF for his appeal. Filed in February 2022, our brief argues that the district court was correct to deny Deputy Long’s motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Mr. Getzen was unarmed, was not suspected of a serious crime, did not physically resist, and did not pose a threat to officer safety. Officers gave Mr. Getzen conflicting commands and then immediately deployed significant force. Any reasonable officer would have known that the use of significant force in these circumstances was unlawful.  

On January 8, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Getzen v. Long, affirming the District Court’s denial of qualified immunity and permitting Mr. Getzen’s civil rights claims to proceed to trial. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that Deputy Long’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment because Mr. Getzen had shown no resistance to the officer’s commands and had done nothing to threaten the officer in any way. And, the Ninth Circuit further held, any reasonable officer would have known that using such significant force on a non-resisting person violated the law. Mr. Getzen’s case now returns to the District Court for further proceedings.