RICHMOND, Va. - A 2012 decision by Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, to overturn a verdict in favor of a former Wood County sheriff's deputy was upheld Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.
Goodwin made the ruling in the case of Brian Sawyer v. Jim R. Asbury. Goodwin stated Asbury violated Sawyer's rights under the due process clause to be free from excessive force while in pretrial detention.
Goodwin issued a ruling granting a judgment as a matter of law in the case of Brian Sawyer v. Jim R. Asbury. Goodwin's ruling is also known as a directed verdict which it has replaced in federal courts.
According to the appeals court, the jury acquitted Asbury of violating Sawyer's rights under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment by use of excessive force.
"Concluding the video clearly established Asbury's use of excessive force, the district court granted Sawyer's motion for judgment," the court stated. "In addition the district court found that Asbury was not entitled to qualified immunity."
In his opinion overturning the verdict, Goodwiin included a link to a portion of the video posted on the district court's website along with still images and a detailed description of the events shown.
Goodwin stated the jury did what it thought was right "but simply got it wrong, but that is what judges are for."
"The video indisputably captured Deputy Asbury's excessive use of force on Mr. Sawyer at the Wood County Holding Center," Goodwin wrote.
Goodwin said his move to use a judgment as a matter of law is rare.
"Judges believe that judgment as a matter of law is a power to be applied sparingly and only in the most extraordinary circumstances.," Goodwin said.
Goodwin said the video could not be reconciled with the judge's verdict.
In the opinion the appeals court stated in a 2007 case, the U.S. Supreme Court "held that when opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the video evidence contained in the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should adopt that version of the facts.
"Rather than relying on 'visible fiction' propounded by the party whose account is contradicted by the video evidence a court should view the facts in the light depicted by the video tape."
In conclusion the court held nothing occurred in the incident that justified a police officer knocking down an arrestee, jumping on him and breaking his nose.
"Accordingly the court's rejection of Deputy Asbury's qualified immunity defense was legally correct," the court wrote. "For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is affirmed."