Police in Virginia have agreed to settle a civil-rights lawsuit in which they were accused of blockading an innocent man in his truck and smashing his vehicle to cuff him and place him in a detention unit on a 72-hour, mental-health hold.
Benjamin Burruss, represented by the Rutherford Institute, brought the case against police in Albermarle County.
“This is just one more example of how a relatively benign situation (a routine welfare check) gets escalated into something far more violent and dangerous through the use of militarized police, armed to the teeth and trained to react combatively,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
“The unnecessary use of force by police officers in response to a situation that should have – and could have – been handled non-confrontationally did not, in this instance, result in a loss of life, but that is small consolation to those who have learned to tread cautiously in their interactions with police,” he said.
Along with arrest and detention, officers deployed a “stinger” device behind his truck tires and launched a flash grenade.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015, alleged violations of the Constitution’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, arguing he had not committed any crime.
Burruss, in a statement released by Rutherford, said he hopes the case “results in the police not using emergency custody orders to detain people who are not mentally ill, have not committed any crime, and just want to be left alone.”
Officers, at the request of his employer, had confronted Burruss as he was leaving a Comfort Inn for a hunting trip to Montana.
He told officers he was fine and had no plans to hurt anyone.
But they blocked him in the parking lot with their vehicles and set up standoff procedures.
One of the officers who spoke with Burruss pointed out there was no reason to hold Burruss because he was not mentally ill and had made no threats.
“Nevertheless, a tactical team of heavily armed police launched a flash grenade at Burruss’ truck, smashed the driver-side window, dragged Burruss out by his arms, handcuffed, searched and arrested him,” the institute said.
Rutherford had asserted to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia that the officers “had no legal basis nor probable cause for detaining Burruss, given that he had not threatened to harm anyone and was not mentally ill.”
The case originally sought compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial.