Graham v. Connor

PETITIONER: Dethorne Graham
LOCATION: United States District Court, Western District North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 87-6571
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 490 US 386 (1989)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1989
DECIDED: May 15, 1989
GRANTED: Oct 03, 1988

H. Gerald Beaver - on behalf of the Petitioner
Mark Irving Levy - on behalf of Respondents

Facts of the case

On November 12, 1984, Dethorne Graham, a diabetic, had an insulin reaction while doing auto work at his home. He asked a friend, William Berry, to drive him to a convenience store in order to purchase some orange juice to counter his reaction. When they arrived at the store, Graham rapidly left the car. He entered the store and saw a line of four or five persons at the counter; not wanting to wait in line, he quickly left the store and returned to Berry’s car. Officer M.S. Connor, a Charlotte police officer, observed Graham entering and exiting the store unusually quickly. He followed the car and pulled it over about a half mile away.

Graham, still suffering from an insulin reaction, exited the car and ran around it twice. Berry and Officer Connor stopped Graham, and he sat down on the curb. He soon passed out; when he revived he was handcuffed and lying face down on the sidewalk. Several more police officers were present by this time. The officers picked up Graham, still handcuffed, and placed him over the hood of Berry’s car. Graham attempted to reach for his wallet to show his diabetic identification, and an officer shoved his head down into the hood and told him to shut up. The police then struggled to place Graham in the squad car over Graham’s vigorous resistance. Officer Connor soon determined, however, that Graham had not committed a crime at the convenience store, and returned him to his home. Graham sustained multiple injuries, including a broken foot, as a result of the incident.

Graham filed § 1983 charges against Connor, other officers, and the City of Charlotte, alleging a violation of his rights by the excessive use of force by the police officers, unlawful assault, unlawful restraint constituting false imprisonment, and that the City of Charlotte improperly trained its officers in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The City of Charlotte filed for a directed verdict, which the district court granted. Graham appealed the ruling on the use of excessive force, contending that the district court incorrectly applied a four-part substantive due process test from Johnson v. Glick that takes into account officers’ “good faith” efforts and whether they acted “maliciously or sadistically”. He instead argued for a standard of “objective reasonableness” under the Fourth Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, rejected this argument, reasoning that concepts such as "good faith" are relevant to determining the degree of force used. It affirmed the directed verdict, holding that a reasonable jury could not have found in Graham’s favor.


(1) Must Graham show that the police acted “maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm” to establish his claim that Charlotte police used excessive force?

(2) Must Graham’s claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force be examined under the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard?

Media for Graham v. Connor

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1989 in Graham v. Connor

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 87-6571, Dethorne Graham v. M. S. Connor.

Mr. Beaver, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

H. Gerald Beaver:

Mr. Chief Justice.

May it please the Court:

On November 12, 1984, Dethorne Graham was not a convict or a criminal.

He was not a pretrial detainee.

Indeed, he was not even a formal arrestee.

He was a free citizen of the United States of America who on that day had an insulin reaction, and he called upon a friend to take him to a convenience store where he could purchase some orange juice to help counteract the effect of the insulin reaction.

Upon arriving there, he noted that because of a line it would take him a long time to get his orange juice, and he became concerned and ran to his friend's car and motioned for him to take him to his girlfriend's house.

A Charlotte, North Carolina police officer saw him hurriedly exit the convenience store and determined the conditions to be suspicious enough to allow for a brief investigative stop to determine the facts.

Upon making this stop, Mr. Berry immediately informed Officer Connor that Mr. Graham was indeed suffering from what he described as a sugar reaction.

At this time Officer Connor asked Mr. Berry, or told Mr. Berry, that he must remain with Mr. Graham at that time while he determined what happened at the convenience store, and he began to depart.

At this time the Petitioner became concerned, and according to his testimony he has little memory of what occurred, most likely because of the continuation of his insulin reaction.

He exited the car and ran around it twice, and then sat down on the curb.

From this point forward, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the Petitioner, as must be done on a directed verdict, he was seated at that time, again peacefully talking with the police officers when back-up officers arrived.

We know that those officers must have been told of the alleged sugar reaction before the first comment.

Byron R. White:

What was he doing when the officers arrived?

He was sitting on the curb.

H. Gerald Beaver:

He was sitting on the curb.

Byron R. White:

Was he conscious?

H. Gerald Beaver:

Yes, he was at that time.

Byron R. White:

Had he been?

H. Gerald Beaver:

Yes, he had been conscious, but he has not memory of those events.

Byron R. White:

To whom was he talking?

H. Gerald Beaver:

He was talking to Mr. Berry and to Officer Connor at that time, when the back-up officers arrived, and we can tell by the comment of the first arriving officer that they were explained about the sugar reaction because the first comment was,

"I've seen a lot of people with sugar diabetes before but none that ever acted like this. "

"There must be... he must be drunk. "

"Let's lock him up. "

And they grabbed him, and they turned him over and they handcuffed him very tightly, so tightly that at the conclusion of this episode he had cut wrists; and they lifted him up by his arms and they carried him to the hood of Mr. Berry's car and laid him over it.

At this time, he regained his senses and began to talk with the officers and complain about the treatment he was receiving, and he asked them to please check his back pocket for his diabetic decal to show that he was indeed a diabetic.