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Trump Judge Casts Deciding Vote to Reverse District Court Decision on Excessive Force By a Police Officer: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

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“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties.

Trump Eighth Circuit judge Ralph Erickson casts the deciding vote against an individual’s excessive force claim against a police officer, despite partial dissents from judges appointed by President George W. Bush. The case is Robinson v. Hawkins.

Kayla Robinson was in her car with her boyfriend, who was driving. He noticed a checkpoint on the road and made a U-turn to avoid it. Officer Angela Hawkins stopped the car and, while approaching it, observed Robinson’s boyfriend hand something to her and Robinson taking her hands out of her waistband. Officer Hawkins asked Robinson to step out of the car, and once outside, asked her what she placed in her waistband. Robinson indicated it was marijuana. Officer Hawkins told Robinson to retrieve the marijuana, but Robinson said she preferred to be taken to the police station to retrieve it there. Officer Hawkins refused that request and instead brought Robinson to a nearby parking lot behind a tractor trailer to retrieve it. After finding the marijuana, Officer Hawkins was convinced that Robinson had other contraband. Officer Hawkins slammed Robinson face-first against the trailer and allegedly unfastened Robinson’s pants, pulled down her underwear and touched her "vagina, anus, and inside her vagina lips” all in search of more drugs. Hawkins found nothing. Hawkins then allegedly planted a bag of drugs on the floor near Robinson.

After Robinson was returned to the scene of the stop, Officer Swinton arrived and found Robinson having what looked like a panic attack.

At the police station, Robinson wrote a statement detailing what happened so that it could be included in the incident report. Officer Swinton read Robinson’s statement and threw it in the trash. Officer Swinton then drafted her own report which the officers acknowledged was riddled with errors and inaccuracies.

Robinson sought medical care and was treated for pain, cuts and bruises. No charges were brought against Robinson.

Robinson sued Officers Hawkins and Swinton, Hawkins for excessive force, performing an unreasonable search and conspiracy and Swinton for conspiracy. The officers sought summary judgment claiming qualified immunity. The district court allowed Robinson’s claims to proceed to a jury trial. The officers appealed.

With Trump judge Ralph Erickson casting the deciding vote, a divided panel of the Eighth Circuit ruled that Robinson could not sue Officer Hawkins for using excessive force because he had qualified immunity. However, the majority affirmed the ruling regarding the unreasonable search claim. Bush Judge Lavenski Smith disagreed with the majority ruling on excessive force, and Bush Judge Steve Colloton disagreed with the majority ruling on the unreasonable search ruling.