Attorneys Show Support For Recent Supreme Court Ruling On Excessive Force

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Legal experts are weighing in after the U.S. Supreme Court remanded a lower's court ruling regarding excessive force in a police killing that took place six years ago. Attorneys have praised the decision and argued that the Supreme Court is sending "a clear signal to lower courts that they cannot reflexively decide cases for police officers when they use brutal tactics on restrained citizens."

"It's extremely rare for the Supreme Court to summarily reverse a decision finding that police did not use excessive force," Steve Art of the ACLU told ABC News.

"The Supreme Court is sending a clear signal to lower courts that they cannot reflexively decide cases for police officers when they use brutal tactics on restrained citizens."

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on a case involving the death of 27-year-old Nicholas Gilbert. While in a holding cell supervised by the St. Louis Police Department, officers claim that Gilbert became suicidal and threatened to take his own life. In response, a group of six officers restrained Gilbert, placed him in shackles and forced him onto the ground. With his face pressed against the ground, officers restrained him for nearly 15 minutes and he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

"[Gilbert] was lifting his chest in an attempt to breathe and saying it hurts, asking them to stop, and then he died. An autopsy found the cause of death to be asphyxiation induced by forcible restraint," Gilbert's attorney, Jon Taylor, stated.

In the aftermath of Gilbert's death, his family sued the police officers involved, but their efforts were struck down in 2016 and 2019. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did acknowledge that the officers used excessive force, but they were protected by qualified immunity. After failing to get the ruling they hoped for in circuit court, the Gilberts took their case to the highest court in the country. While conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito dissented, the majority of justices moved to remand the case back to a lower court. Moreover, the Supreme Court argued that the 8th Circuit Court did not clearly define whether "prone restraint" was constitutional.

"The Eighth Circuit didn't get to the qualified immunity question because it didn't find a constitutional violation in the first place," American University law professor Elizabeth Beske explained.

"By sending the case back, the Supreme Court is signaling to the Eighth Circuit that excessive force cases require a hard look at specific facts and circumstances and can't be dismissed lightly."

As expected, Gilbert's family was extremely pleased with the decision and is looking forward to bringing this case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a third review. This time around, they are hoping for a different outcome.

"I want my son to finally have his day in court in front of a jury," Gilbert's mother, Jody Lombardo, said.

"I want my son's case to be an example -- something that changes the way police treat people."

Beyond Gilbert, this case could have legal ramifications that extend far and wide. Legal experts believe this decision will for courts to take more detailed looks at cases involving excessive force.

"The Supreme Court has summarily vacated a pro-officer decision by a lower court in an excessive force case," Taylor added.

"So this is a big deal, not only because of what the Supreme Court said but also because of the signal that it sends to lower courts and law enforcement going forward."

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