Federal judge rules no constitutional violation in murder’s suit
April 24, 2002
RENO — A federal judge has ruled convicted killer Siaosi Vanisi’s rights were not violated by Washoe Sheriff’s deputies.
Vanisi is on death row for the murder of University of Nevada Police Sgt. George Sullivan in 1998. He sued deputies claiming he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment while at the Washoe County Jail in Reno.
But U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben ruled Vanisi’s rights were not violated when deputies physically remove him from his jail cell.
“The court finds it beyond dispute that plaintiff’s constitutional rights were not violated by anyone in the course of the cell extraction on March 20, 1998,” McKibben wrote. “The court also finds that all the officers involved in the March 20, 1998 cell extraction would be shielded in this case by the doctrine of qualified immunity.”
Officers reported that Vanisi had earlier refused to return to his cell following his daily “tier time” and had been confrontational with jailers. He was seen practicing martial arts with a broomstick and then refused to put his hands out to be cuffed before officers entered his cell. He also refused to back away from the cell door and fought with deputies when they entered to remove him, threatening them verbally.
Deputies said they needed to search the cell to see if Vanisi was hiding anything that mightbe dangerous to deputies dealing with him.
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He claimed his rights were violated and that deputies used excessive force.
McKibben ruled that Vanisi “left the officers no choice but to remove him from his cell by force.” And he ruled that the videotape of the incident shows they used no more force than necessary and caused him relatively minor injuries including a cut lip and bruises.
Vanisi was convicted of using a hatchet to murder Sullivan in January 1998 as the officer sat in his patrol car. The Nevada Supreme Court has already upheld his conviction and sentence, ruling there was ample evidence in the case including testimony that Vanisi said he wanted to kill a police officer.
Vanisi was observed near the scene shortly before the time of the killing and the murder weapon, a hatchet, was discovered at his apartment.
And after the killing, there was testimony Vanisi had told several people he committed the murder.