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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Southern District denies new trial in excessive force case against Mounds police officer


By Charmaine Little | Jun 21, 2018

BENTON – A Mounds police officer struck out twice with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois following a fight with a family that led to a lawsuit over excessive force allegations, according to a May 29 court opinion.

The court denied both of Officer Dustin Turska’s motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial.

Turska and other officers allegedly got into a fight with Terry and Bryan Ditterlines, who filed suit along with Delana Ditterline and Brandon Ditterline.

During the lengthy altercation, the court's memorandum and order states the Ditterlines attempted to run over Turska with their truck after the fight. A number of policemen, including Turska, then followed Terry and Bryan to their home, where another fight took place. The police at the scene subsequently took several of the family members into custody. The Ditterlines later filed a lawsuit against the officers stating they used excessive force during the arrest.

The case later went to trial, where a jury sided with the defendants on each of the matters except Terry’s accusations against Turska, who testified he placed handcuffs on him. Terry was awarded $500 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages. Turska responded with the renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) and a motion for a new trial. 

When it comes to the judgment as a matter of law, the court pointed out it could not approve that renewed motion based on Turska’s testimony. He stated that Terry testified he didn’t know who pulled his arms behind him when he was placed in handcuffs and since Turska and another defendant said Turska only put handcuffs on Terry, Turska alleged he wasn't responsible for any injuries. The court disagreed.

It pointed out the Fourth Amendment states a policeman is not allowed to “knowingly use handcuffs in a way that will inflict unnecessary pain or injury on an individual who presents little or no risk of flight or threat of injury,” according to the opinion. It determined the jury was correct when it found Turska was responsible for using needless force in Terry’s arrest.

As for Turska’s request for a new trial, the court stated two reasons it denied the motion. It said the jury had plenty of evidence in making its decision from Terry’s health concerns to Turska’s testimony that he did indeed handcuff Terry. 

“A rational jury could find Turska liable under these circumstances,” the court determined in the opinion. 

For the second reason, the court pointed out Turska said the instructions given to the jury regarding the Ditterlines was confusing as it used the law for an unlawful arrest allegation instead of the excessive force  allegation. Turska also raised an issue with a note the jury submitted in court asking a question about the incident. The trial court told the jury it could not answer the question for them, which Turska said left the jury confused. 

The U.S. District Court, however, ruled the questions alone didn't prove the jurors were confused and the court did not find that the instructions given to the jury were confusing.

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois

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