ATLANTA — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit Court on March 13 affirmed a trial court's decision to deny a motion for a summary judgment filed by the Palm Beach Sherrif's Office in a civil action against one of its officers for excessive force and violating the 4th Amendment.
The court ruled per curiam. Judges Beverly B. Martin, Jill Pryor, and J.L. Edmonson comprised the court.
In their opinion, the court concluded that a summary judgment was unwarranted because "Deputy (Andrea) Bufano was unentitled either to qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment claim or to statutory immunity on the state law claims."
Under Florida Statute § 768.28(9)(a), an officer cannot be held liable for acts committed within the scope of their employment unless the acts committed were “in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property," according to the ruling.
The court concluded that "Deputy Bufano’s conduct evidences sufficiently that he acted with a wanton and willful disregard of human rights."
The plaintiff and her then-boyfriend, both students at Florida Atlantic University, were tailgating at an FAU football game when they met Bufano during a verbal altercation with another couple. Bufano and officer William Hernandez, a police officer for the university, engaged with the plaintiff after she allegedly "chest bumped" Hernandez, according to his testimony.
Both officers controlled her arms and dragged her away from the altercation, according to information in the ruling. The plaintiff told the officers that their grip was too tight and hurting her arm. They maintained their grip and her arm above her elbow broke, the ruling said.
The officers argued that they were protected by the qualified immunity statute. The court disagreed, noting "Deputy Bufano violated Plaintiff’s constitutional rights that were already clearly established when Deputy Bufano acted."
The court further argued that the plaintiff engaged in no physical violence that warranted Bufano's reaction and dismissed the motion for a summary judgment.