Under Connecticut tort law, which imposes a greater duty of care on a police officer in the use of force than is required by 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, a police officer is liable if force is applied as the result of intentional, wanton or negligent conduct. Even if a policeman unintentionally and accidentally injures a plaintiff, he would be liable for damages if the force were exerted without the exercise by him of due care.
A peaceful anti-war demonstration in front of the Yale-in-China building in New Haven turned into a serious physical encounter between students and police. The defendant, observing that detective Giannotti had been knocked to the ground and was under attack by several students, left his post on the steps of the building and rushed to assist his fellow officer. After issuing a verbal warning that went unheeded, he lashed out with his blackjack in order to subdue a male demonstrator who was assaulting Giannotti. As the blackjack descended and hit the head of the demonstrator, it accidentally glanced the head of the plaintiff, causing a mild injury. Because the blackjack struck its intended target, the defendant did not realize the weapon also touched the plaintiff's body as it came down in and among a pushing, shoving, fighting group of persons. The plaintiff, on the other hand, feeling an unexpected, sharp and sudden force against her head, reasonably assumed she was the object of the defendant's blackjack. As such, The student brought an action against the officer to recover damages pursuant to § 1983 and pursuant to Connecticut tort law.
Did an officer's accidental striking of his baton on a demonstrator's head as he was using his baton to aid a fellow officer amount to police brutality?
The court held that the officer's conduct did not offend the student's constitutional rights as contemplated by § 1983 because he resorted to the use of force in order to assist another policeman under assault, only after his verbal warning was left unheeded. Also, the use of a blackjack was necessary, reasonable, limited and relatively controlled under the circumstances. The officer did not commit an assault and battery against the plaintiff as the former acted within reasonable limits in determining the type and amount of force required in order to rescue a fellow officer during an altercation.