The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a brief in federal court in a case in which an innocent pregnant woman was treated brutally by Maple Grove police.
The ACLU-MN filed the amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief Tuesday in S.A.A. v. Samantha Geisler, Maple Grove Police Officer in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
“The public loses faith in the social contract and trust in the judicial system when government officials harm people in violation of the law and escape punishment for doing so,” the ACLU-MN said in its amicus brief.
S.A.A. and her husband were home January 2020, when Maple Grove police tried to kick down their door. He was playing video games with headphones on, so he did not hear the police; she was cooking dinner. Police raided the home, wrongfully thinking the husband had shoplifted a snowblower.
Maple Grove Police Officer Geisler allegedly threw S.A.A., who was nine months pregnant, onto the ground onto her stomach. S.A.A. was detained at Hennepin County Jail, where deputies reportedly ignored her pleas as she went into labor. She was put into shackles while in labor, which violates state law. She was never charged, and all charges were dropped against her husband.
S.A.A. sued law enforcement over this brutal treatment, but the lower court threw out the lawsuit against Officer Geisler, saying it did not include the wording that the officer “was sued in her individual capacity.” The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals requires this highly technical and specific wording – which the ACLU-MN called “magic words” in its brief – when people harmed by police or other government agents sue over a violation of their rights.
That means that anyone living in the Eighth Circuit, which includes Minnesota, can lose their ability to pursue a lawsuit against a police officer if they can’t afford an attorney, don't have a local civil liberty specialist as a lawyer, or just have a lawyer who makes a technical mistake, said ACLU-MN Staff Attorney Catherine Ahlin-Halverson.
“If your attorney doesn’t write the words ‘in their individual capacity’ while suing a government agent like police, you are out of luck,” Ahlin-Halverson said. “The Eighth Circuit, which includes Minnesota, is the only circuit in the entire nation that follows this harsh and punitive rule that can make it harder for people to sue for justice. We think it is time to change that. Government agencies and officials should be held accountable when they violate our rights and harm us.”
S.A.A also filed a lawsuit against Hennepin County, which was settled in early 2023.
The ACLU of Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that defends and promotes the rights of all Minnesotans through litigation, lobbying and community engagement.