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Taser use by police restricted by 9th Circuit

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  • suesarkis@aol.com
    Federal court restricts Taser use by police Ninth Circuit ruling -- allowing an officer to be held liable for injuries a man suffered after being Tasered --
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 30, 2009
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      Federal court restricts Taser use by police
      Ninth Circuit ruling -- allowing an officer to be held liable for injuries
      a man suffered after being Tasered -- sets a precedent that may force
      agencies to revisit their policies.
      By Joel Rubin and Richard Winton
      December 30, 2009

      A federal appeals court this week ruled that a California police officer
      can be held liable for injuries suffered by an unarmed man he Tasered during
      a traffic stop. The decision, if allowed to stand, would set a rigorous
      legal precedent for when police are permitted to use the weapons and would
      force some law enforcement agencies throughout the state -- and presumably the
      nation -- to tighten their policies governing Taser use, experts said.

      Michael Gennaco, an expert in police conduct issues who has conducted
      internal reviews of Taser use for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
      and other agencies, said the _ruling_
      (http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2009/12/28/08-55622.pdf) by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of
      Appeals prohibits officers from deploying Tasers in a host of scenarios and
      largely limits their use to situations in which a person poses an obvious danger.

      "This decision talks about the need for an immediate threat. . . . Some
      departments allow Tasers in cases of passive resistance, such as protesters
      who won't move," he said. Tasering for "passive resistance is out the door
      now with this decision. Even resistance by tensing or bracing may not

      The weapons, which resemble handguns, can be fired from about 20 feet away
      and project two dartlike electrodes. The electrodes send an electrical
      charge coursing through the target -- a shock that temporarily paralyzes the
      person's muscles and causes extreme pain. Almost all of the stun guns used
      by law enforcement agencies in the United States are manufactured by Taser
      International Inc., including the one fired in the current case.

      Though stun guns have been in use for about three decades, the number of
      police departments issuing them to officers has proliferated in the last 10
      years. Advocates tout the weapons as a less-than-lethal alternative to
      firearms and say they help resolve dangerous face-to-face confrontations with
      combative suspects. But several controversial Taser incidents, some
      involving fatalities, have led to widespread debate over when police should be
      allowed to deploy the weapons.

      Last year, a National Institute of Justice study found that the weapons
      were employed safely in the vast majority of cases, but concluded that more
      research is needed to determine the health effects of shocking small
      children and the elderly, among other groups.

      The unanimous ruling, issued Monday by a three-judge panel, stemmed from a
      2005 encounter in which a former Coronado, Calif., police officer, Brian
      McPherson, stopped a man for failing to wear a seat belt while driving. The
      driver, Carl Bryan, who testified that he did not hear McPherson order him
      to remain in the car, exited the vehicle and stood about 20 feet away from
      the officer. Bryan grew visibly agitated and angry with himself, but did
      not make any verbal threats against McPherson, according to court documents.
      McPherson has said he fired his Taser when Bryan took a step toward him -- a
      claim Bryan has denied.

      Bryan's face slammed against the pavement when he collapsed, causing
      bruises and smashing four front teeth.

      The appellate court did not rule on whether McPherson acted appropriately,
      but simply cleared the way for Bryan to pursue a civil case against the
      officer and the city of Coronado in a lower court. Based on Bryan's version
      of events, though, the judges found that McPherson used excessive force in
      firing the Taser, since Bryan did not appear to pose any immediate threat.

      In spelling out their decision, the judges established legally binding
      standards about where Tasers fall on the spectrum of force available to police
      officers, and laid out clear guidelines for when an officer should be
      allowed to use the weapon. The judges, for example, said Tasers should be
      considered a more serious use of force than pepper spray -- a distinction that
      runs counter to policies used by most law enforcement agencies in California
      and elsewhere, according to Greg Meyer, a retired Los Angeles Police
      Department captain and consultant on use-of-force issues.

      The ruling does not appear to affect the LAPD, which has a relatively
      strict policy on Taser use. Gennaco said that the same is more or less true of
      the Sheriff's Department, but that he would discuss with Sheriff Lee Baca
      the possible need for "tweaking" the policy and training.

      The Orange County Sheriff's Department seems more likely to be affected.
      Spokesman John McDonald said the department's policy allows officers to fire
      Tasers at people who try to flee an encounter with police or who refuse,
      for example, to comply with an officer's order to lie down during an arrest.
      Those scenarios appear to be prohibited under the court's ruling.

      "It sounds like this court is attempting to raise the bar for nonlethal
      use of force," Meyer said.

      _joel.rubin@..._ (mailto:joel.rubin@...)

      _richard.winton@..._ (mailto:richard.winton@...)

      Copyright © 2009, _The Los Angeles Times_ (http://www.latimes.com/)

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