By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A Cheyenne police officer did not use excessive force when he punched and used a choke hold on a man who was trying to take his pistol, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.
The court unanimously upheld the conviction of Nigel Latham on a charge of felony attempted interference with a peace officer, rejecting his arguments that police used excessive force in his arrest.
The ruling stems from Latham’s arrest, made during a welfare check on his daughter requested by the girl’s mother. According to the ruling, police were called after Latham, who had been drinking from a bottle of non-toxic cleaning solution, refused to let go of his daughter and give her to her mother and then pinned the mother against the wall of a house.
Police responded to the scene and grew concerned that the girl, who was again being held by Latham, could be in harm’s way, so they convinced Latham to leave the house he was in. After he left the house, one officer grabbed the child and another tackled Latham.
After the tackle, Officer Jose Ruiz said he was sitting on top of Latham when he felt his gun holster move and saw Latham’s hands on his gun. Ruiz punched Latham in the face twice and then put him in a “rear naked choke” hold until Latham passed out.
Latham was convicted of attempted interference with a peace officer and misdemeanor child endangerment.
Latham appealed the conviction of attempted interference with a peace officer, saying Ruiz used excessive force by punching him and using a choke hold.
But justices said the jury in Latham’s case heard evidence that throughout the encounter, Latham failed to respond to Ruiz’ verbal instructions and that once Latham grabbed the officer’s gun, Ruiz had to do whatever he could to make sure his gun was not removed.
“The evidence … is sufficient to support the jury’s finding that Officer Ruiz did not use excessive force and, thus, was engaged in the lawful performance of his official duties when he punched Mr. Latham and applied a choke hold,” said the ruling, written by Justice Kate Fox.
Justices also rejected Latham’s arguments that the jury was not given enough evidence to prove he was trying to take Ruiz’ gun.
“(Ruiz) explained that … Mr. Latham did not stop pulling on the weapon, even after getting punched in the face,” the opinion said. “The jury could reasonably infer from this evidence that Mr. Latham acted with the requisite specific intent when he attempted to disarm Officer Ruiz.”
Latham also unsuccessfully argued that he should not have been tackled because once the officers had possession of his daughter, their purpose for being at the house was over.
But justices said police were rightfully concerned about Latham’s well being because they had seen him drink from a bottle of cleaner.
“The evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s finding that Officer Ruiz was lawfully engaged in the performance of his official duties because Mr. Latham was a danger to himself, and that the tackle was not excessive force under the circumstances,” the opinion said.