Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland.
No. 1:17-cv-02503—Donald C. Nugent, District Judge.
Argued: January 28, 2020
Decided and Filed: June 18, 2020.
JOHN K. BUSH, Circuit Judge. This appeal involves a Chris Rock video and a cartoon,
but it is no laughing matter. In fact, this case raises a gravely important issue—police use of
force—that has dominated the nation’s attention in recent weeks. Lamar Wright, an African
American man, brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of unconstitutional excessive force, false
arrest, malicious prosecution, and municipal liability, along with state-law claims, relating to the
actions of certain police officers and other officials employed by the City of Euclid, Ohio.
The police officers, in plain clothes, approached Wright’s parked SUV with weapons
drawn. Thinking he was about to be robbed, Wright tried to back up the vehicle to get away.
A flash of a badge made him realize that the men he thought were about rob him were the police.
Wright stopped the SUV, and the officers pulled open the driver’s side door. Wright had no
weapon, and the officers holstered theirs. Nonetheless, they simultaneously deployed a taser
against him and pepper-sprayed him at point-blank range, all while he remained seated in the
vehicle. Wright had trouble getting out of the SUV because of a colostomy bag stapled to the
right side of his abdomen. He was recovering from a medical operation for diverticulitis. The
police aggravated the staples from his surgery, causing bleeding from around the bag.
The officers then arrested Wright even though there was arguably no probable cause for
the arrest. The officers designated Wright’s arrest as arising from a drug investigation, even
though they found no drugs on him. This designation resulted in Wright’s being detained for
more than nine hours and subjected to an intrusive body scan for drugs well after the officers
knew of Wright’s medical condition. The scan revealed no drugs, and no drug-related charges
were ever brought against him.
The district court granted summary judgment to the officers on the basis of qualified
immunity, and to the City based on Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690
(1978). As explained below, we disagree with the district court’s qualified immunity analysis.
With respect to the Monell claim, the evidence against the City includes the Chris Rock video,
played as part of its use-of-force training for officers, in which the comedian makes remarks
about Rodney King and police misconduct that are highly inappropriate for law-enforcement
instruction. The proof also includes an offensive cartoon in the City’s police-training manual
that portrays an officer in riot gear beating a prone and unarmed civilian with a club, with the
caption “protecting and serving the poop out of you.” R. 23 at PageID 808. Based on this
evidence and more, we find that Wright has introduced sufficient evidence of municipal policy to
For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM in part and REVERSE in part the district
court’s judgment, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.