An appeals court ruled Monday that a school resource officer involved in a 2015 altercation with a Kissimmee Middle School student used excessive force during the incident, records show.
According to the court opinion, Trellus Richmond, a seventh-grader at Kissimmee Middle School, was being dropped off at the school lobby by his mother while “wearing a hoodie to hide an embarrassing haircut” — a violation of the school’s rules.
As his mother pulled at Richmond’s hoodie to take it off, Richmond pushed her away, prompting an office attendant to call for the school resource officer, Mario Badia, the opinion states.
Documents show Badia spoke with Richmond for more than two minutes in the lobby before grabbing Richmond’s face, shoving Richmond in the chest and throwing him to the ground in an “armbar” technique.
Based on a video of the incident, Badia was later prosecuted for and pleaded guilty to battery against Richmond, records show.
However, the opinion states that a district court granted judgment in favor of Badia regarding Richmond’s claims of false arrest, excessive force and battery, with the district court saying Badia had qualified and statutory immunity due to Richmond pushing his mother, which provided probable cause.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit partially disagreed with the district court’s decision.
“The question in this appeal is whether a school resource officer is entitled to qualified immunity for throwing a seventh grader to the floor of a middle school lobby,” the opinion states.
In the opinion, Judges Kevin Newsom and Andrew Brasher said Badia had qualified immunity regarding the false arrest accusation, but Badia’s actions toward Richmond constituted excessive force, as Richmond was “a non-hostile and non-violent suspect who has not disobeyed instructions.” The opinion states that this was a violation of Richmond’s Fourth Amendment right.
The judges said that Badia had no law enforcement justification for grabbing Richmond’s face, slamming him to the ground or twisting his arm, nor did Richmond pose a threat or attempt to flee the school lobby.
In a dissent, Judge Elizabeth Branch stated that the force Badia used against Richmond was “minor” and was thus not unconstitutional.
“Officer Badia’s conduct in grabbing Richmond’s face may have been rude, even degrading,” Branch said in the opinion. “But it was not an unconstitutional use of excessive force, much less a clearly established one. I respectfully dissent.”
According to the opinion, the court said it would remand for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
News 6 has attached the opinion for this case, Trellus Richmond v. Mario J. Badia, which can be read below.
Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily: