Man seeks Supreme Court ruling on Weber County excessive force lawsuit

Hyrum James Geddes claims he was "violently attacked" by four Weber County correctional officers who threw him against a brick wall while he was handcuffed. Two lower courts denied his lawsuit, but now he's seeking a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hyrum James Geddes claims he was "violently attacked" by four Weber County correctional officers who threw him against a brick wall while he was handcuffed. Two lower courts denied his lawsuit, but now he's seeking a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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OGDEN — Hyrum James Geddes was driving from a friend's house on July 16, 2017, when he was pulled over by a Utah Highway Patrol trooper and arrested.

He was later charged with driving under the influence and carrying a dangerous weapon as well as with a speeding infraction. Geddes later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of impaired driving and was sentenced to 12 months of probation.

But that day in July 2017, when he was arrested and booked into the Weber County Jail, Geddes claims he was "violently attacked" by four correctional officers, who threw him against the brick wall and concrete floor while he was handcuffed.

Geddes filed a federal civil suit in 2018, seeking a minimum of approximately $2.5 million in damages. But his lawsuit was dismissed in 2020, when Judge Howard C. Nielson Jr. decided that Geddes' claims weren't valid under the 14th Amendment.

Geddes' attorneys next went to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, but it upheld Nielson's ruling in September. Geddes and his attorneys haven't given up and are now petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court.

In November, Geddes' attorneys filed a petition for a writ of certiorari: a request that the Supreme Court order a lower court to send up a case's records for review. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to hear Geddes' case on Feb. 17, according to court documents.

His original federal complaint names Weber County, the Weber County Sheriff's Office and four correctional officers as defendants.

It states that, while in a holding cell and while in handcuffs, the four officers asked Geddes to remove his boots. Geddes, "who had been thirsty for a long period," asked for a glass of water. In response, one of the officers allegedly told Geddes, "remove your boots or we will remove them for you!"

Geddes was "stunned by the harshness of the reaction," and simply asked, "Really?" according to the complaint.

In response, the complaint alleges, the officers rushed at Geddes, grabbed him and "violently attacked" him. Geddes said he was unable to brace or catch himself due to the handcuffs, and he was slammed into the brick wall and concrete floor with "substantial, potentially deadly force."

The complaint claims that the correctional officers removed his boots while pinning him to the ground with a knee and smashing the back of his head and face into the concrete.

"The incident in the holding cell was, upon information and belief, recorded by the correctional facility, but after repeated requests were made to the prosecuting attorney by Mr. Geddes' defense attorney in the criminal proceeding, the (Weber County Sheriff's Office) claimed that it had not been preserved and that it no longer existed," the complaint says.

It claims the officers weren't properly trained or monitored, constituting "deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Mr. Geddes and members of the public under the 14th Amendment."

Geddes suffered "serious, life-threatening injuries" as the result of the officers' actions, according to the complaint, including a "massive" head injury, "substantial" injury to his elbow and knees, and "significant" injury to both of his knees. He says he continues to experience painful headaches and cognitive difficulties.

But in his ruling, Nielson wrote that the 14th Amendment proscription against excessive force applies after a probable cause determination, while the Fourth Amendment applies before a probable cause determination.

"Consequently, regardless of whether Mr. Geddes might have a cognizable claim under the Fourth Amendment, he does not have a cognizable claim under the 14th Amendment," Nielson wrote.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals later agreed with Nielson, writing that "only the Fourth Amendment supplied a valid legal basis for Mr. Geddes's (suit), and yet ... Mr. Geddes stubbornly refused to concede this fact."

In his brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Weber County and the other defendants, attorney Frank Mylar wrote that while Geddes argues that there is no difference between the standards of the Fourth and 14th amendments as they relate to excessive force claims, two of the Supreme Court's "seminal" cases on the subject prove otherwise.

Mylar also wrote that "at least seven circuit courts of appeal agree with the approach used by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the issue need not be resolved by this court at this time."

In his reply, Geddes' attorney, Gregory William Stevens, wrote that "this case presents an opportunity to ... resolve a deeply-entrenched split in the circuits as to the proper line of demarcation."

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