Friday, May 18, 2012

Supreme Court taser/reasonable force case

More Taser mention for those of you who missed this earlier this week.

The New York Times last Monday noted "the multitude of varying rulings coming from the lower courts all around the country regarding the use of tasers, when their use by the police amounts to excessive force, the fact that sooner or later the Supreme Court will have to bring order to this area of the law, and -- perhaps a new twist -- the justices, next week, being scheduled to decide whether to hear an appeal from three Seattle police officers who say they are worried about the future of what they call 'a useful pain technique.'"

The case here in point involved a seven-month pregnant woman driving her 11-year old son to school when she was pulled over for speeding, going 32 miles per hour in a school zone where the speed limit was 20. Lady said she would accept a ticket but drew the line at signing it, which state law required at the time, thinking, wrongly, that by signing it it was an acknowledgment of guilt. Refusing to sign, though, was a crime, and the two officers on the scene summoned a sergeant, who instructed them to arrest the woman, who then refused get out of her car, at which point the officers tasered her in the thigh, arm, and neck before dragging her into the street, laying her face down and cuffing her hands behind her back.

In the months that followed, the Times article continued, the woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl; was convicted of refusing to sign the ticket, a misdemeanor, but not of resisting arrest; and sued the officers who three times caused her intense pain and left her with permanent scars, though no further serious injuries.

"The officers won a split decision in October from a 10-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, where the majority said the officers had used excessive force but nonetheless could not be sued because the law in the question was not clear in 2004, when the incident took place. While the ruling left the three officers in the clear, it did put them -- and their colleagues -- on notice that some future uses of Tasers would cross a constitutional line and amount to excessive force…. The bottom line, in any event, was that the officers had won. They have nonetheless appealed to the Supreme Court, in an effort to clear their names and preserve the freewheeling use of 'a useful pain technique.'" [ Petition for Certiorari & 9th. Circuit Decision ]

Last week we noted the Cincinnati Police Department's taking notice of the study done by Indiana University electrophysiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes of eight cases involving the TASER X26 ECD published by American Heart Association journal, "Circulation," which presented the first ever scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death ( Here ); and, two years ago, we reported Taser-issue cases in Columbus and here in Cincinnati. Both of those cases involve suspects being injured – one seriously – after being tasered while running from police and are still in proceedings.

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