may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Officer Richard Zimmerman,
individually and as a police officer in the
Minneapolis Police Department, et al.,
Filed August 12, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 9515575
Randall J. Fuller, Babcock, Locher, Neilson & Mannella, 118 East Main Street, Anoka, MN 55303 (for appellant)
Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City Attorney, Timothy S. Skarda, Assistant City Attorney, 300 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.
This appeal challenges a jury verdict denying recovery in a case alleging use of excessive force by a police officer. Because evidence presented at trial supports the jury's verdict, we affirm.
In the course of the search, Nguyen's nose was bloodied and broken. Conflicting testimony was offered at trial. Nguyen contends that an officer kicked him in the face and the stomach after he had been handcuffed. A witness testifying on Nguyen's behalf stated that the officer who kicked Nguyen was wearing plain clothes. Officer Scheu contends that he was covering the main room of the apartment with his handgun when Nguyen began to reach toward a jacket lying on the floor. In response, Scheu placed his foot on Nguyen's shoulder and neck and pushed him forcefully to the floor. Scheu testified that Nguyen was not handcuffed at the time and that he did not kick Nguyen.
The jury returned a special verdict finding that officer Scheu did not use excessive force on Nguyen during the search. Nguyen appeals the verdict.
The use of excessive force by a police officer constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and is actionable under Section 1983. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 1871 (1989). Whether an officer has used excessive force depends on whether the officer's actions were "objectively reasonable" given the circumstances. Id. at 397, 109 S. Ct. at 1872.
Nguyen contends that his nose was broken when a police officer kicked him while he was handcuffed and lying on the floor. We agree that such a kick to the face under circumstances as alleged by Nguyen would indicate a probable violation of Nguyen's right to be free from unreasonable seizure, and if Nguyen's allegations were uncontroverted by competing evidence, we would find the jury's verdict inexplicable. But the jury was presented with conflicting testimony. It is the duty of the jury, not the appellate court, to evaluate the credibility of witness testimony. Dick Weatherston's Assoc. Mechanical Servs., Inc. v. Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co., 257 Minn. 184, 189, 100 N.W.2d 819, 823 (1960).
Officer Scheu testified that he applied force to Nguyen's back and neck, pushing his face into the floor, after Nguyen reached for a jacket lying on the floor. He stated that Nguyen had not yet been handcuffed. At the time, Scheu was covering a number of people with his handgun during the execution of a high risk entry search warrant. Taking the facts as alleged by Scheu, we believe the jury could have determined that the force applied to Nguyen was not excessive under the circumstances.
Nguyen contends that the evidence proves he was handcuffed at the time of the injury because officer Scheu admitted that plainclothes officers did not enter the apartment until all suspects were handcuffed, and Nguyen's witnesses testified that plainclothes officers were present when Nguyen was kicked. But even if the jury believed the witness testimony, that would not compel a different result. Nguyen's witness testified that Nguyen was kicked by a plainclothes officer. Officer Scheu was in uniform as a member of the police department's ERU. Thus, the jury may have accepted that Nguyen's injuries resulted from a kick while handcuffed, but still concluded that officer Scheu was not the officer who used excessive force.
Because testimony presented at trial is consistent with a theory supporting the jury's finding, the special verdict was not perverse nor palpably contrary to the evidence, and we affirm.
[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.