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Utah man who nearly cut officer's ear off sues police, alleging excessive force

Leon Dane Hall
Leon Dane Hall
Salt Lake County Jail

SALT LAKE CITY — A man who recently pleaded guilty to almost slicing a Salt Lake City police officer's ear off has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against that officer claiming he used excessive force first.

Leon Dane Hall, 25, of Salt Lake City, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court Monday against Salt Lake City officers Conrad Leong, Tyler Bang, Cody Wilkes, Miles Southworth and Livsey Harrison, claiming his constitutional rights were violated when police used "unlawful detention and brutal, violent use of force and excessive force against Mr. Hall when no force at all was necessary and the physical altercation was instigated by one of the officers."

On Feb. 2, 2016, Salt Lake police responded to reports of a man banging on doors at the Pauline Apartments late at night. Officers originally claimed Hall refused to give them his name or personal information. When the officers attempted to take him into custody, Hall resisted and shouted for the officers to stop touching him, according to charging documents.

As they attempted to push Hall into a patrol car, he began swinging at them and screaming. The officers attempted to bring Hall into compliance by using their batons on his chest and legs as he yelled "Stop!" and "Help!" the charges state.

As Hall and an officer fell to the ground during the struggle, Hall pulled out an 18-inch cast-iron lawn ornament with jagged edges and swung it at officers, nearly severing officer Bang's ear. It eventually took five officers to arrest Hall.

The encounter was recorded by a bystander from an upper-story window. Release of the video sparked a public outcry over whether the officers used excessive force in their arrest.

"My little brother Leon Hall is in jail for cutting off part of a police officer's ear during an altercation. Is what he did OK? Not at all. Did the cop excessively beat him? … Yes," Hall's brother, Eli Hall, posted on Facebook.

In December, Hall pleaded guilty to two counts of assault on a peace officer. As part of his plea deal, his charges were reduced from second-degree to third-degree felonies, while an additional count of interfering with an arresting officer, a class B misdemeanor, was dismissed. In February he was sentenced to a suspended prison term, given credit for time served in jail, and ordered to be screened for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

On Monday, Hall claimed it was the police who escalated an otherwise peaceful situation and unlawfully detained him and used excessive force.

Prior to police approaching him, Hall said he was already shaken that night because he "had been beat up, and left seriously injured, in a violent hate crime inflicted against him because he is gay; and, as a result, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder," according to his lawsuit. "Mr. Hall has also been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, PTSD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and also reports that he suffers from anxiety."

In his lawsuit, Hall contends the five officers that arrested him had not received adequate training on dealing with people in that condition and they wrongly assumed that the only explanation for his behavior was that he was on drugs.

"Each of the defendant officers, rather than using only such force as was necessary to control and arrest Mr. Hall, used excessive force against Mr. Hall in an effort to inflict their own punishment against Mr. Hall for his failure to abide by their commands," the lawsuit states.

Hall states he had broken no crimes when officers questioned him, and did not have drugs or alcohol in his system.

"Mr. Hall was non-aggressive, non-threatening," the lawsuit states.

But it was the police who escalated the situation by grabbing and threatening Hall, according to the lawsuit. One officer appears to have become upset or lost his patience with Hall's quips as he was being asked questions and "grabbed Mr. Hall by his arm or wrist, without informing him that he was being placed under arrest," the lawsuit states.

"Mr. Hall said that he did not have identification and said, repeatedly, 'You need to stop touching me,'" according to the lawsuit.

Hall said officers then struck him six to eight times with their batons

"Scared and reacting to the unnecessary physical violence against him, Mr. Hall then swung in the air with a decorated metal flower ornament that Mr. Hall had in his hand and, in so doing, cut officer Bang’s ear. Mr. Hall has acknowledged that swinging the object at the officers, even though he was scared, was wrong," the lawsuit states.

Hall said officers also used their Taser on him three times after the officer's ear was sliced, followed later by an additional "drive stun" taze to his chest, according to the suit.

Because of that incident, "Mr. Hall experienced and will continue to experience trauma, stress, emotional pain, suffering, and inconvenience of being subjected to excessive, deadly force when no force was required," he contends in his lawsuit.

He is seeking about $1.8 million in damages, according to the lawsuit.

Salt Lake City police detective Greg Wilking said Tuesday that the police department could not comment on the lawsuit since the city had not seen it yet.