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Court rules lawsuit against Las Vegas police over man’s 2013 death can proceed

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the estate of a man who died after a 2013 struggle with officers can proceed with a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department.

Luis Solano died in February 2013, days after he was booked into Clark County Detention Center on drug charges. His family sued the department in July of that year, accusing authorities of beating and suffocating Solano after they misinterpreted his reaction to a seizure.

Lawyers for Metro argued that the officers should be immune from civil complaints based on their actions while on the job. They appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal district judge in Nevada rejected those claims.

The 9th Circuit upheld the lower federal court’s decision in an opinion released Wednesday that allows Flores Zelaya and Elia Carmen Solano Patricio to go forward with their civil case on behalf of Solano’s estate.

“A reasonable jury could find that the officers’ use of force was objectively unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment,” Judges A. Wallace Tashima, Andrew D. Hurwitz and Lynn Adelman wrote in the ruling.

The ruling cites video of the incident that shows “Solano motionless and unresisting for more than 90 seconds while officers continued to pin him to the ground and bend his legs toward his torso.”

Appellate judges referenced a prior case that found qualified immunity did not apply when a suspect is subdued and handcuffed and officers apply force.

“Continuing to press weight onto a detainee for a significant amount of time after the detainee is subdued violates the Fourth Amendment,” they wrote. “This incident creates at least a disputed issue of material fact whether they did so for a significant period of time after Solano ceased resisting.”

The 9th Circuit returned its ruling quickly after hearing oral arguments in the case last month. The time frame from argument to decision is usually much longer.

“We’re thrilled that they moved so quickly,” said Las Vegas defense attorney Matthew Callister, who is representing the plaintiffs.

“Police mistreatment is obviously a hot topic right now,” Callister said, referencing recent police shootings that have locked national attention on the issue of officers’ use of force.

A trial date has not been set.

Contact Jenny Wilson at jenwilson@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.

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