A St. Paul police officer slammed a 52-year-old head-first onto a sidewalk before handcuffing him, in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, according to the man’s lawsuit against the city and the officer.
On Wednesday, the St. Paul City Council agreed to a $90,000 settlement in the 2012 case.
Robin Kirkland Neal said in his lawsuit that his head began to bleed profusely and he sustained multiple cuts to his face after an officer slammed him to the ground. (Courtesy of Robin Neal lawsuit filing)
Robin Kirkland Neal initially didn’t comply with officers’ commands after they demanded he get out of a car, but he was following orders as he walked toward Officer Daniel Ficcadenti, according to a U.S. Court of Appeals opinion filed in July.
Neal “was fully compliant at the time that Officer Ficcadenti applied the arm-bar takedown maneuver on him,” which “violated a clearly established constitutional right,” the appeals court ruled in upholding a U.S. District Court judge’s decision to not dismiss the lawsuit, which the city had requested.
In August, the city and Neal reached a settlement agreement, though St. Paul denied “the allegations and asserts that the officer’s actions were lawful,” according to the agreement.
“It was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity that led to Mr. Neal’s interaction with our officers,” said City Attorney Lyndsey Olson. “The city acknowledges that this interaction resulted in some unintended consequences for Mr. Neal. The city also recognizes that if this case proceeds to trial, the city’s liability exposure could be higher than the proposed settlement amount due to Mr. Neal’s attorney’s fees.”
Though the case happened six years ago, Neal still has some lingering problems with neck pain “and it was a really emotionally jarring incident for him,” said Oliver Nelson III, Neal’s attorney.
“I think it would be safe to say there’s some apprehension now whenever he encounters a police officer because of what happened,” Nelson said.
POLICE WERE RESPONDING TO WEAPON CALL
The case went back to a night in June 2012. That evening officers were dispatched to Born’s Bar on Rice Street after someone called police and said they witnessed a male retrieve a gun from a black four-door sedan outside the bar and place it in his waistband.
The suspect was described as a heavy-set black male in his 40s, wearing a baseball cap and a red-and-white shirt.
Neal, who had gone to Born’s Bar to watch a basketball game, was sitting as a passenger in his friend’s black four-door door sedan outside of the bar. Officers pulled their guns and directed the people in the car to exit.
Neal, who is black and slender, emerged wearing a black shirt and jean shorts. He and the others in the car were all in their early 50s.
“When first arriving on the scene, officers had reason to be on high alert … (and) faced an uncertain, possibly dangerous, situation,” the appeals court order said. “Even so, a reasonable officer is not permitted to ignore changing circumstances and information that emerges once arriving on scene. … In this case, it became immediately apparent that none of the men detained in this encounter matched the description of the suspect.”
The police yelled to the passengers to come out with hands up and directed Neal to walk toward them. But squad car footage showed Neal wandered around the sedan, dropped his hands five times and lifted his shirt as if to show he was unarmed, according to the appeals court opinion.
When Neal walked within arm’s reach of Ficcadenti, the officer abruptly grabbed Neal’s arms, slammed him to the ground and dragged him down the sidewalk a few feet before arresting him, according to Neal’s lawsuit and the appeals court opinion.
“Neal’s head began to bleed profusely and he sustained multiple cuts to his face,” Neal’s lawsuit said. Neal has sickle cell anemia and the incident resulted in the onset of a sickle cell crisis, the lawsuit said.
OFFICER WAS NOT DISCIPLINED IN CASE
Ficcadenti argued Neal engaged in “passive resistance … in which the use of force is justified,” the appeals court order summarized.
But Neal said his “initial failure to follow commands … was the result of natural confusion arising out of the chaotic conditions,” including music blaring from the bar, a police dog barking and multiple officers shouting multiple commands, according to the appeals court.
The city reported that Neal “was heavily intoxicated and ignored numerous clear commands given by Officer Ficcadenti,” according to their filing in response to the lawsuit. But Neal’s attorney said he didn’t believe Neal’s alcohol consumption that night had an impact on what happened.
The appeals court order said that Ficcadenti “was reasonable in his initial inference that Neal was engaged in an act of passive resistance. This changed when Neal approached Officer Ficcadenti with his hands up in complete compliance with the orders being given to him.”
The order from the appeals court also noted that, “Ironically, as Neal was walking toward Officer Ficcadenti, the dispatcher informed the police that the ‘Male with the gun just walked out the front door.’” Police arrested that individual, who was found to be in possession of a hammer; a gun was not found. No weapons were found on the people in the sedan.
Neal filed an internal affairs complaint against Ficcadenti, which did not result in discipline, according to the officer’s personnel record.