Police Misuse of Tasers
Every day, police officers put their lives on the line to serve and protect the citizens of their community. Unfortunately, there are times when the situation turns violent. Police officers are trained to practice non-violent methods when it comes to restraining or subduing a suspect. However, there are times when extreme force becomes necessary. Firearms are used as a last resort when either the police officer or an innocent victim is being threatened. An effective alternative for subduing a suspect is a taser gun, which is an electronic device that gives off a non-lethal jolt of electricity. The jolt causes extreme muscle contractions and immobilizes the suspect long enough for the police officer to regain control of the situation.
There are times, however, when a taser gun is used incorrectly or excessively by a police officer, resulting in serious bodily harm to the suspect. This can lead to a lawsuit against the police officer or the precinct. If someone is injured as a result of taser abuse, they are urged to contact a Los Angeles civil rights lawyer as soon as possible.
How Do Tasers Work?
When a police officer pulls the trigger on a taser, there are two wires with probes at the end that are released and become embedded in the person’s body. Every time the officer pulls the trigger, a five-second burst of up to 50,000 volts of electricity is released. Taser probes can be deployed up to a distance of 30 feet and can penetrate an inch of clothing. If the officer holds the trigger down, it results in a continuous flow of electricity. Another option for police officers is to hold the taser flush against the skin; this is known as a drive stun. It causes pain but does not cause temporary paralysis. This can be an effective way for police officers to get suspects to follow their commands.
How are Tasers Regulated?
Although it is crucial that police officers understand how to use tasers and when it is appropriate to use them, tasers can be misused if police departments do not establish and enforce clear regulations. In California, local police departments can regulate how tasers are used by their police officers. For regulations to be followed and enforced, the department must provide comprehensive training. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recently updated its guidelines to specify that tasers should not be used once the suspect is no longer a threat to the officer, the public, or themselves.
When Should Police Officers Use Tasers?
One of the benefits of tasers is that they allow police officers to subdue a suspect without using lethal force. However, there are instances in which police officers may use a taser incorrectly as a result of being inadequately trained or not trained at all. Each state’s Law Enforcement Standards Board disseminates a training guide that includes how and when tasers should be used. Police officers may use a taser gun if a suspect is actively resisting a police officer’s control efforts, is fleeing the scene of a crime, or is about to use another weapon on the police officer or someone else. These are the only circumstances in which using a stun gun is permissible. If a police officer deviates from these rules and use of a taser results in injuries, the victims may file a lawsuit against the police officer or the department.
What is the Difference Between Reasonable Force and Taser Abuse?
Police officers can use a taser when it is reasonable under the circumstances. When the situation warrants it, police officers are authorized to use reasonable force, which may include using a taser or even lethal force if the suspect becomes violent. However, if the circumstances do not warrant the use of reasonable force and the officer uses a taser in an excessive or abusive manner, this is a violation of the person’s Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable seizure. Depending on the circumstances, the use of the taser may also violate other civil and criminal laws.
If a taser-related incident goes to court, the judge or jury will consider the following factors when determining whether excessive force was used, and how a reasonable police officer would act under similar circumstances:
- The severity of the crime: If a suspect becomes violent or threatening, the use of a taser will likely be considered reasonable. However, if a police officer uses a taser during a routine traffic stop and the motorist was simply questioning why he or she was pulled over, this is generally considered an unacceptable use of a taser gun.
- The threat to public safety: This is generally the most important factor in determining whether a taser gun was used appropriately or not. Although courts often rule in favor of the police officer, there are times when the court finds that excessive force was used. For example, in the case of Armstrong v. Village of Pinehurst, a mentally ill man was tasered five times by police. The man had wrapped himself around a post and refused to move. After unsuccessful attempts to get the man to move, a police officer deployed the taser five times. The suspect became unresponsive and died. A federal appeals court stated that a taser can be used only if there is an immediate safety risk; however, the court ultimately found that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.
- The resistance of the subject: If a police officer uses a taser on a suspect who flees the scene or is actively trying to resist arrest, it is unlikely that the court will consider the use of a taser to be reasonable. However, if the subject continues to pose a threat, it may justify the use of a taser.
The following are examples of questions that an investigator might ask when determining if excessive force was used:
- Was the suspect armed, or did the suspect threaten to take hostages?
- Did the police officer give a warning before shooting the taser?
- Was the suspect in danger of hurting him/herself or the officer?
- Was the suspect carrying a weapon or wearing clothing that would conceal a weapon?
- Was the suspect handcuffed or restrained when he or she was tasered?
- Did the suspect appear agitated or under the influence of drugs?
- Did the subject comply with the officer’s instructions?
- Did the subject resist, either passively or actively?
Examples of Situations in Which the Use of Tasers are Justified
If a suspect poses a threat to the police officer or other individuals, this behavior will likely justify the use of a taser gun. The following are examples of cases where the court found that tasing was justified:
- McNeil v. City of Easton, 694 F.Supp.2d 375 (E.D. Pa. 2010): Police attempted to apprehend a man for disorderly conduct, but the suspect refused to show his hands when instructed and told the officers that they would have to shoot him. The officers requested back-up, but the suspect’s behavior warranted police action before the back-up officers arrived. Police tasered the suspect, resulting in only minor injuries.
- Draper v. Reynolds, 369 F.3d 1270 (11th Cir. 2004): Police stopped a subject for a tag-light issue, but the individual refused to follow instructions and became aggressive and confrontational with the officer. The police officer used the taser for a single shock.
Examples of Taser Misuse
Unfortunately, there are times when police abuse their power by misusing tasers, often resulting in serious injuries. The following are examples of inappropriate use of tasers:
- A Russian man who appeared confused and did not speak any English was arrested at the Vancouver International Airport after becoming agitated toward airport staff. After police had the suspect pinned and handcuffed, it was reported that the taser gun was used four or five times. The man suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of the electrical shocks.
- A UCLA student refused to show his identification to a community officer at the college library. The officer threatened to call campus police if the student did not show his identification. He refused because he believed that he was being harassed for his Middle Eastern ethnicity. When campus police arrived, they handcuffed the student and attempted to remove him from the library. After refusing to leave, police tasered him five times while his hands were bound. The case settled out of court for $200,000, and the controversy surrounding the case prompted the university to update its policy on the use of force in cases of passive resistance.
ACTS Law Reaches Multi-Million Dollar Settlement in Case Involving Taser Gun
In 2020, a $2.2 million settlement was reached in a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by ACTS Law against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) for the death of Tashi S. Farmer.
According to the lawsuit, Tashi initially approached police officers near the Venetian Hotel on May 14, 2017, asking for help. As one of the officers stepped forward, Tashi panicked. The officer began chasing Tashi and subsequently shot him with a taser gun seven times while he was writhing in pain on the ground. The lawsuit alleged that the LVMPD’s use of force policy was unconstitutional on its face at the time of Tashi’s death.
Our legal team believe the settlement is the largest ever in a lawsuit alleging misconduct by the LVMPD.
Who Can Own a Taser Gun?
In the state of California, anyone can purchase, own, or use a taser, also known as a stun gun, and there is no legal requirement to obtain a permit, with the exception of the following:
- Individuals who have been convicted of a felony or assault
- An individual who is addicted to a narcotic drug
- Minors who are under the age of 16
- Minors who are 16 or 17 years old, but do not have written parental consent
Although there are few exceptions as to who can use tasers, California law prohibits the use of tasers in certain locations, including the following:
- State and local government buildings
- Secured areas in airports, passenger terminals, harbors, or port facilities
- Locations where meetings that are legally required to be open to the public are held
What Types of Injuries Can Taser Guns Cause?
The electrical shock from a taser gun can cause the following injuries:
- Vision loss
- Tissue damage
People can also suffer injuries that are an indirect result of the taser. For example, if the taser causes the person to fall down, the fall can cause cuts, scrapes, broken teeth, broken bones, traumatic eye injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. They can also lead to internal bleeding, scarring, and permanent disfigurement. In extreme cases, the victim can become permanently paralyzed. Tasers are also known to interact with the human heart and can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Taser guns can also cause ventricular fibrillation, which can be fatal. Certain individuals are at greater risk for serious health complications after being shot by a taser gun, including the following:
- Individuals with heart conditions
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- People who are taking certain medications
- People who are underweight
- People who are under the influence of illegal drugs
- People with excited delirium, which is characterized by extreme agitation and aggression in patients with an altered mental status
Can I Sue the Police for Misusing a Taser?
If a police officer uses a taser without just cause, he or she may be charged with criminal battery or assault with a deadly weapon. In extreme cases, an officer who tases a subject repeatedly out of a sense of sadistic pleasure may be held liable for the California crime of torture (Penal Code 206). If convicted, this carries a life sentence. It is important to understand, however, that police officers are given a lot of latitude when it comes to protecting themselves from a violent suspect. In addition, a police officer may have qualified immunity if he or she did not realize that his or her conduct was unlawful. Qualified immunity allows police officers and other government officials to violate people’s constitutional rights with virtual impunity.
Lawsuits against police officers can be challenging to win, even when there is sufficient evidence. However, a skilled legal team can obtain information from a stun gun and determine certain variables, such as the length of the electrode used, or the level of electric current used on the subject. Depending on the type of taser, key information can be learned about a range of factors. A civil rights lawyer can determine whether the police officer deviated from the guidelines, was negligent, or caused intentional harm through the misuse or abuse of a taser. If there are witnesses, video surveillance of the tasing, or any other key evidence, this can help build a strong case. A skilled civil rights lawyer will protect the victim’s legal rights and recommend the best legal course of action.
What Damages am I Eligible to Receive?
Depending on the specific details and the nature of the taser injury, the recovery amount is unique to each case. The following are examples of damages that may be recovered in cases involving the misuse of taser guns:
- Medical costs associated with the injury, including hospital and emergency room care, physical therapy, ambulance costs, and rehabilitation
- Future medical care
- Lost wages
- Future loss of income
- Emotional and psychological damages
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages if the officer displayed reckless behavior or gross negligence
Why Should I Hire a Civil Rights Lawyer?
If an individual suffers a serious injury after being tasered by a police officer, it is highly recommended that he or she consult with an experienced civil rights lawyer as soon as possible. These types of cases can be challenging, and the regulations may be different depending on where the incident occurred. A skilled legal team will investigate the matter, gather all necessary evidence, and ensure that the victim’s legal rights are protected.
Los Angeles Civil Rights Lawyers at ACTS Law Advocate for Victims of Taser Abuse
If you or someone you know was seriously injured after being tasered by a police officer and you believe that the tasing was unjustified, it is in your best interest to contact the Los Angeles civil rights lawyers at ACTS Law at your earliest convenience. We will thoroughly examine the details of your case and determine whether the injury was the result of excessive force or misconduct. Protecting your rights is our top priority, and we will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online. From our offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.