Judge rules for Cheyenne officer in lawsuit

HEYENNE — A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a Cheyenne Police officer that alleged unlawful seizure and excessive force.

In a July 14 order granting a motion for summary judgment, Magistrate Judge Mark Carman wrote that Cheyenne Police Officer Eric Norris was entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning it was dismissed permanently.

The lawsuit, brought by Cheyenne resident Travis Salway, alleged Norris violated his Fourth Amendment right by arresting him without a warrant, and that Norris used excessive force when he struck Salway in the face with a closed fist following a 2018 incident at Alf’s Pub, 1622 E. 19th St.

The complaint, filed June 25, 2020, by Salway’s attorney, Mitch Guthrie, alleged that Norris punched Salway in the face while Salway’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and he was in a defenseless position. The complaint said Salway was cooperative, and that Norris struck him “without provocation, or good cause.”

Salway’s hand was obviously broken, as bones were protruding through his skin, the complaint said, following a physical dispute with other bar patrons and the bar’s owner. Salway said he was “manhandled” onto a stretcher, causing him additional pain.

In an answer filed Aug. 31, 2020, Norris, through Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Howard, denied that his actions violated Salway’s civil rights. He admitted striking Salway with a closed fist during the incident, but denied that it was without provocation or good cause, and denied Salway was cooperative and not resisting detention. Norris also denied that he used excessive force and said his actions were “reasonable and proper.” He asserted that he was entitled to qualified immunity.

Carman found Salway failed to meet his burden of proof in the unreasonable seizure claim. The court believes the involved officers had probable cause to arrest Salway, the judge wrote, as they had been told Salway was violent toward other bar patrons and his wife.

Further, a video from the parking lot showed – and Salway agreed in a July 13 hearing – that he was already handcuffed and lying on the ground when Norris arrived, meaning Norris could not have violated his Fourth Amendment rights, the judge wrote.

Carman found Salway also failed in meet the burden of proof in the excessive force claim. Carman wrote that, based on the video, it was “objectively true” that Salway “had resisted and been confrontational with officers before he started screaming and thrashing about.” Norris struck Salway twice in response, and when Salway stopped this behavior, Norris stopped applying force, the judge wrote.

The judge said it was not in dispute whether Salway resisted, and when it came to Salway’s motive for resisting, it had not been clearly established in the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that an officer may not apply force to a resisting person if the officer knows that person is injured, or if the person is resisting because of pain or disability.

An internal investigation by the Cheyenne Police Department exonerated Norris, saying his use of force was reasonable, according to an October 2018 letter from former Chief Brian Kozak to Salway’s wife.

Norris is also a defendant in another ongoing federal lawsuit, in which three plaintiffs allege they were unlawfully arrested and were victims of excessive force during two separate incidents in summer 2017. In this case, Norris is a co-defendant with fellow Cheyenne Police Officer C.K. Wood.