In a story that hasn’t seemed to have drawn too much press notice, we finally have a Federal court decision, closing out 2009, that police officers can be sued for inappropriate Taser use:
The judge noted, however, that Mr. Bryan did not threaten the officer, Brian McPherson, and was not trying to flee — all elements of a three-part test that the United States Supreme Court has used to determine when significant force is justified. As for the third factor in the court’s test, the severity of the offense at issue, the Ninth Circuit judges observed that “traffic violations generally will not support the use of a significant level of force.”
The court found that the policeman’s use of force so exceeded the threat posed by Mr. Bryan that it denied his request for immunity for his actions and for a quick dismissal of the case against him. Instead, the judges will allow the case to go forward.
This is truly good news. If you’ve been reading these pages for some time, perhaps you’re tired of how often I point out some excesses of Taser use, but it’s a very serious problem, and will only get worse as technology provides authorities with more and more weapons that leave little or no evidence when they’re abused.
One might slough this decision off as something handed down by an “activist” court; more than half of the Ninth Circuit judges were appointed by Presidents Carter and Clinton. Judge Wardlaw, who wrote this decision, is a Clinton appointee, and has been reported to be on President Obama’s list for possible upcoming Supreme Court nominations. And perhaps it’s true that the more conservative Fifth or Tenth Circuits would have decided differently.
As it stands, though, unless the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to review this case, agrees to, and overturns the decision, this will have a profound effect on the use of Tasers by police departments through the country.
And it should.