After a year that saw exaggerated use of Tasers against unarmed people who posed no threat to police, a federal appeals court ruled to limit the use of Tasers in these situations.
The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco this week will affect most of the western United States, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, along with two territories.
It stems from an incident where a 21-year-old California man was Tased after a traffic stop even though he did not threaten the officer or attempted to flee.
According to The New York Times:
In a vividly worded opinion issued by the court this week, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw described a “bad morning” for Carl Bryan, a 21-year-old Californian who drove over large stretches of Southern California to retrieve car keys mistakenly taken by a friend and ended up being Tasered by a Coronado, Calif., policeman and breaking four teeth when he fell to the ground.
Mr. Bryan was stopped twice on his driving odyssey, once for speeding and again for not wearing his seat belt. After the second stop, Mr. Bryan was “agitated, standing outside his car, yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs, clad only in his boxer shorts and tennis shoes,” the court said.
The judge noted, however, Mr. Bryan did not threaten the officer, Brian McPherson, and was not attempting 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 Supreme Court 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.”
Prior to the ruling, police were allowed immunity in Tasering people. Now they can be held liable, which hopefully will make them think twice before using their Taser.