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Judge tosses out excessive force suit against Sioux City police officer

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SIOUX CITY -- A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed a Sioux City police officer used excessive force and was negligent when bumping into his vehicle to end a high-speed chase.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney ruled that officer Christopher Eral's use of the Pursuit Intervention Technique, or PIT maneuver -- a tactic in which an officer bumps a vehicle during a pursuit to make it spin out, was not unreasonable because Dean Christiansen had been driving recklessly and was believed to be intoxicated. Earlier attempts to end the chase by using stop sticks also had failed.

Mahoney also ruled that Christiansen had failed to offer facts showing Eral intended to hurt Christiansen by employing the PIT maneuver.

US Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney

Mahoney

"The complaint contains no factual allegations suggesting that Officer Eral acted with any purpose other than ending the chase," Mahoney wrote in a 12-page ruling filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.

Mahoney's ruling dismissed Christiansen's claims that Eral's actions violated both his Iowa and U.S. constitutional rights to due process and protection from unreasonable seizure by excessive force. Mahoney also dismissed claims against police Chief Rex Mueller and the city for failing to maintain or enforce policies and establishing practices that permitted officers to use their vehicles to intentionally collide with vehicles at high speeds and for not properly training and supervising officers.

Christiansen sued Eral, Mueller and the city in April.

Christiansen was leaving a North Sioux City casino in the early morning hours of June 2, 2019, when he refused to pull over for a North Sioux City police officer who had initiated a traffic stop for a mechanical issue. A chase ensued and crossed into Sioux City, where Sioux City officers joined in.

Christiansen ran stop signs and drove in the opposite lane of traffic, reaching speeds of 90 mph on Fifth Street, where Eral bumped Christiansen's vehicle, causing it to spin off the street and hit a light pole. The doors were wedged shut and a fire started in the engine. Officers removed the windshield to extract Christiansen, who suffered injuries to his chest, knee and hip, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleged that Sioux City officers did not follow department policies when joining the chase and that Eral had violated department policy by using the PIT maneuver on a vehicle traveling faster than 40 mph. Christiansen was seeking damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of income and earning capacity and punitive damages.

He pleaded guilty in September 2019 to eluding and was sentenced to five years in prison. Prior to being released on parole, he was charged with operating while intoxicated during the pursuit. He pleaded guilty in January, and a judge revoked his parole and sent him back to prison.

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