Indiana Federal Lawsuit Thrown Out When Inconsistent With State Criminal Conviction

Federal case law summary: Police excessive force.

Gary W. Helman v. Bruce Duhaime. Indiana police excessive force.

Gary W. Helman was arrested on April 9, 2009. The Indiana State Police had warrants for his arrest, and they went to his home, where they initially spoke to his brother. They explained that they wanted to arrest Gary, who was home at the time with his mother. There plans for him to peacefully turn himself in were not to be. Instead, a long stalemate ensued.

At about noon, Gary Helman exited the house, and spoke with a U.S. Marshal and Indiana Police Sergeant Bruce Duhaime. This discussion concerned some lawsuits that Helman had filed in federal court. These officers asked whether Helman was armed, and he responded by lifting up his shirt to reveal a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun. These officers informed the other officers that Helman was armed.

Six hours went by. Then, Helman once again left the house and walked into the backyard carrying a coffee cup and water. The Indiana State Police Emergency Response Team moved into place behind him to keep him from re-entering the house.

They then set off a flash bang device to disorient him. It was alleged that he reached for his gun at this point, but Helman denied it. In any event, officers fired shots at Helman, hitting him multiple times.

Helman was charged in state court with resisting law enforcement, and he ultimately pled guilty. He did acknowledge at the plea hearing that he knowingly and forcibly resisted arrest, and he admitted that he "attempted to draw a deadly weapon".

He later filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and alleged that they violated his rights by using excessive force. The federal district court in Indiana dismissed his case on summary judgment, and he appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals first noted that a case of this type cannot proceed if it is inconsistent with a conviction in a criminal case. In this case, the argument was that the case was inconsistent with the conviction for forcibly resisting arrest.

In this case, the Court concluded that the case could be consistent with the conviction only on one factual theory: That Helman did not attempt to draw his weapon until after shots were fired. There was some support for that theory, since Helman had been holding water and a coffee cup at the time he allegedly drew his weapon.

However, the Court noted a fatal problem with this theory. Helman's admissions at the plea hearing amounted to an admission that he was reaching for the gun. Therefore, the case could not proceed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower court.

No. 12-3428 (7th Cir. Feb. 6, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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