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TRI In The News

National Group Names City, Officers in Civil Rights Suit

Original Article Available Here

A Virginia-based nonprofit that provides legal services in defense of civil liberties named the city of Muskogee and five current or former police officers in a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force and deprivation of rights. 

Lawyers for The Rutherford Institute filed the complaint on behalf of Jeriel Edwards, whom they allege was subjected to "excessive force and brutality" despite his compliance with police. Lawyers representing Edwards allege police threw their client to the ground, used a Taser and chokehold to subdue him, rendering him unconscious to the point of requiring hospitalization.

City Attorney Roy Tucker said the complaint, which was filed Oct. 23 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Oklahoma, and summons have yet to be served. He was unable to comment about the allegations set forth in the complaint, which are based upon events said to have occurred on or about Oct. 25, 2016, at the Wendy's parking lot on South 32nd Street.

"We will be pulling the record and reviewing that to ensure all the relevant evidence is preserved, which is protocol for matters such as this," Tucker said. "This would be an insurable claim, so the complaint and the record will be forwarded to our insurer for review." 

John W. Whitehead, who founded The Rutherford Institute in 1982, said police often tell civilians "to comply, cooperate (and) obey" in order to stay safe during any encounter with police. Whitehead, in a statement released announcing the lawsuit's filing, said police also tell Americans to "not resist, not argue, not make threatening gestures or statements, avoid sudden movements, and submit to a search of their person and belongings.” 

“The problem is what to do when compliance is not enough," Whitehead said. "How can you maintain the illusion of freedom when daily, Americans are being shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and Tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, challenge an order or merely exist?”

Lawyers allege in the complaint a Muskogee police officer approached Edwards while he was sitting in a car at the fast food restaurant's parking lot. Edwards, according to the complaint, complied with a series of instructions given by that officer and a second officer before he was "grabbed" by the arm and his head "shoved ... into the asphalt."

Edwards, his lawyers allege, repeatedly asked about the officers' conduct "but got no answer" from either officer, one of whom used a Taser on Edwards before two other officers arrived. The fourth officer to arrive allegedly used a chokehold to restrain Edwards at one point.

The plaintiff allegedly lost consciousness while being transported to the hospital, where he reportedly was admitted to the intensive care unit for injuries. Edwards, according to the complaint, remained in the hospital for three days. 

The Rutherford Institute, founded in 1982 by John W. Whitehead, is a nonprofit civil liberties organization based in Charlottesville, Va., committed to the protection of constitutional freedoms. The Institute provides its legal services at no charge to those whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.

Edwards is seeking damages for alleged violations of his Fourth Amendment right "to be secure in his person from unreasonable seizure through excessive force." He also seeks damages for alleged violation of state constitutional protections against excessive force. 

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