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TASER Use Restricted in 5 States by U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

January 15, 2016  | 

Police officers lacked clear legal guidance on when they may zap people with Tasers, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Monday, so it made a new rule to restrict their use, reports the Fayetteville Observer.

If a person is not creating "an immediate safety risk," the court said, officers aren't allowed to shock him with a Taser. The pain it causes is an excessive use of force that violates the person's constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment, it said.

The ruling arose from a lawsuit against Pinehurst over the death of a mentally ill man. Pinehurst police used a Taser's pain mode in a failed attempt to make the man let go of a post. He died a few minutes later.

The decision applies in the five states in the 4th Circuit: North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The N.C. Justice Academy advised law enforcement agencies to revise their Taser policies to comply.

Officers likely will resort to other weapons, like pepper spray and batons, plus hands-on techniques to make people comply with their orders, said Cumberland County (NC) Sheriff's Office attorney Ronnie Mitchell.

"I'm afraid it will lead to more injuries to individuals," Mitchell said, both law enforcement officers and the people they are attempting to detain or control.

Comments (28)

Displaying 1 - 28 of 28

Leonard @ 1/16/2016 6:11 AM

I read about this case and it was obscene that the officers escalated the situation that did not require it. This man, clearly mentally ill, was a danger to no one but himself. According to the ruling, the cops were chatting with this man until 30 seconds after they got notice that the commitment letter was signed, when they went into violence mode; tasing an forcibly handcuffing and restraining this man to the point of killing him. Why? Because violence is what officers know and resort to when they don't know any better. If cops don't know how to handle a situation with a mentally ill person, then they should call in the people that can. The thing the most bothered me is that while the court ruled the officers used excessive force, they were also entitled to qualified immunity. What a farce!!

kevCopAz @ 1/16/2016 9:46 AM

Leonard, dont disagree with you on the use of Taser in this case. But when have YOU ever dealt with a mentally ill person in a public place with danger involved? Never, I can tell. Its not as easy as you seem to indicate. They would have to "forcefully" handcuff him, people don't relax when being placed into custody especially mentally ill. The end result could have been the same if the officers were forced to try and physically restrain him and then both the officer(s) and the suspect's safty are in danger. They would have to resort to a baton, pr paper spray or physical force. This may have resulted in damage to him anyway and then people like you would say why didn't they taser him, since hitting with a baton or open hand was excessive. Perhaps the police should not even deal with mentally ill at all unless they commit a crime, let the "experts" do it and see how they like it.

Tom Ret @ 1/16/2016 10:44 AM

There is the possibly of injury when using any form of physical force to affect an arrest with those who resist arrest or are assaultive. Many of the officers in the agency I worked for have abandoned carrying the taser because its use is so restricted. It is too bad that those making up the rules obviously have no experience of what it takes often times to get someone under control who doesn't want to be arrested. Of course this difficulty is multiplied when dealing with numerous suspects at the same time. It seems so simple for the armchair warriors. If the public wants police to be pro active and refrain from using their firearm as much as possible, this is exactly the wrong decision to make.

Leonard @ 1/16/2016 1:16 PM

@kevCopAz. You obviously didn't read the ruling. The only danger that this man was committing was refusing to let go of a pole he was holding on to. The violence the officers used against this man, only escalated the level of resistance. Can't a cop tell when what they are doing isn't working? Is escalation the only option an officer can resort? This man wasn't a criminal, he was sick and the way the officers decided to help him was to kill him. There was no danger, no violence to anyone until 30 seconds after the officers got notified the gentlemen was to be committed. Once they got the order, the tasers came out and the violence began. I stand by my original statement, if you don't know what you're doing, find someone that does. The statistics show that if a mentally ill or handicap person encounters a police officer, it will always be bad for the citizen.

FDC @ 1/16/2016 2:09 PM

Leonard..let us know when you complete the police academy and deal with your first mentally ill person. Wait I am sorry... Obviously you will never go to the police academy because you would not be able to hack it. The officers were instructed to apprehend the person and place him in custody. When he resists what do you suggest the officers do? They have to physically remove him because he is NOT going to go peacefully. Would you rather they break his fingers or arms to get him to release the pole? The mentally ill are very hard to handle and 99% of the time force will be necessary. According to you the officers will never be able to take a mentally ill person into custody the correct way. We should stand by for several hours waiting for a "person that can" ignoring the other calls that come in. The police do the best they can and people like you like to Monday morning quarterback them. The courts made their ruling so just be quiet and mind your own business. You have no idea what the police have to go through on a daily basis and you never will. So stop hiding behind your keyboard and try the job. I did it for 38 years.

Leonard @ 1/17/2016 7:51 AM

@FDC. Don't give that walk in my shoes crap that some officers use on this site. It's a BS excuse and not even a rational argument grounded in any sense of logic. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Because these keystone cops used the only tool they know how to use...Violence, a innocent man was killed. These officers had other options and should have handled the situation much differently. You're damned right...WAIT! Is there something in the handbook that says you have to handle every situation within a predefined time. I've seen highways shutdown for hours while accidents are being investigated. So you are telling me it's acceptable to have resources tied up for that but not a sick man needing help? It's clear you and many other officers have lost all sense of proportionality and value for human life, except when the life is wearing a badge.

Tom Ret @ 1/17/2016 8:08 AM

Leonard-you are talking out of your ass. Your opinion is not going to convince any cops on this forum.

Percy @ 1/18/2016 1:11 AM

@ Leonard

Well said, and as to Tom's comment he's right cops only seem to have one opinion and it tends towards violence and quick escalation to violence. Doesn't seem to matter if it's a traffic stop, peaceful protesters or someone filming them. Their only concern is officer safety and no one elses.
At least that is what we see every single day in the US.

AJ @ 1/18/2016 8:01 AM

Do not feed the troll.

xxxxx @ 1/18/2016 8:42 AM

I heard all the officers were getting feathers and the next time someone doesn't peacefully want to go we should tickle them until they comply.

Beast @ 1/18/2016 6:45 PM

I must say I lost count of the IVC's that I took into custody while a Deputy Sheriff in NC. Some went without a hitch. Other's!!! Well they didn't always go so well. Nothing like getting your ass kicked, and not being able to charge the subject! We did are best to use as little force as possible. But their are times when you had no choice and you had to use force. Officer's in NC are responsible for the well being of the subject until turned over to a 24 hour Mental Health Facility. The steps taken 1; Take the subject into custody, 2; Take them to Medical Center for eval, 3; when cleared take to 24 hour treatment facility. Cost one or two Officer's / Deputy's time the shortest I have seen 4 hours. The longest 14 hours! A few times it took the whole Shift to take an IVC into custody.

Robert @ 1/18/2016 10:32 PM

Beast...I like most of your comments...especially the part about waiting. If the guy is sitting on the ground, holding onto a pole (like a child)...why not just wait. Call a professional, call the guys relatives, etc.
My problems with this case:
1. After this many years of Taser's being issued, how is it possible that the local police agencies do NOT have a Taser policy that would meet judicial review???!!!
2. The full article states that the review court felt the case was right at the limit of being a valid lawsuit...the court should have stepped aside and let a jury decide the facts.
3. That said, I don't see how the court ruled this was covered by immunity....again, Tasers have been issued for 20 years. Not having a compliant policy should have given rise to negligence above required to overcome immunity...this is a bad precedent to set. We had no policy...or our policy wasn't correct...therefore we are covered by immunity.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Leonard @ 1/19/2016 7:38 AM

@Robert. You've expressed the major problem with policing, no uniform standards or effective policy. Combine this with some recent SCOTUS rulings, you practically have created wild-west environment where an officer can do whatever he wants and not be held liable for his actions.

Tom Ret @ 1/19/2016 8:50 AM

Robert-Normally I ignore most opinions on this police forum from those who obviously don't know what they are talking about due to their lack of experience but will make this one an exception. You state why not wait, get his relatives etc. First off, you are making the wrong assumption that there is time. Frequently there is not unlimited time dealing with a low priority call as this one at the same time officers are stretched thin. Officers get diverted to other calls that are more pressing or serious all the time. If your calls are backing up, likely a sergeant will suggest strongly you get with the program and quit playing psychologist. I know you think that cops can do the job without any physical force if they only are patient but you talk as if this is the only call that the officers will handle in their entire shift. The reality is that diddling around on a call of such low priority will mean serous calls will not be answered as manpower is almost always limited.

Robert @ 1/19/2016 2:14 PM

Well I will respond Tom Ret: you are simply wrong...and your thinking is wrong. The Appeals court agreed the conduct was not legal...but since the police "didn't know better" it was okay.
The BS on this board about how civilians don't know what it is just that. I don't know how to clean a sewer pipe, but I know when s_it back up and mistakes are made. The police are servants of the citizens of this country....and those citizens get to judge as they see fit.
Keep spouting the BS about how "no one can judge us" and using the phrase "fear for our life" in every shooting...and eventually the public will lose trust in LEO to tell the truth.
The day will come, sooner rather than later, where a jury will accept the word of a criminal over a LEO in a CIVIL case...and then we will know that trust is lost..and LEO/PBAs will have themselves to blame
As for some research: The town has 13K residents; and 5 police were at the scene. Probably not many calls that day.

Robert @ 1/19/2016 2:19 PM

To quote from the Appeals Court:
"Where, during the course of seizing an out-numbered mentally ill individual who is a danger only to himself, police officers choose to deploy a Taser in the face of stationary and non-violent resistance to being handcuffed, those officers use unreasonably excessive force. While qualified immunity shields the officers in this case from liability, law enforcement officers should now be on notice that such Taser use violates the Fourth Amendment," Thacker wrote.

So Tom, I guess it is good you are retired...because if you work in the 4th Circuit...and continue in your would soon find yourself being tried in a court of law, by those same civilians who "don't know what they are talking about".
I wonder how your would do...try the "Sergeant told me to quit playing" excuse and see if the jury buys it???

xxxxx @ 1/19/2016 6:50 PM

OMG, Robert please just STFU

J @ 1/20/2016 4:27 AM

The supreme court has already ruled over the years on Taser use. It will review this case too (as you know Taser will not "go along" with this ruling) someday soon and the misguided ruling will be overturned. For God's sakes the court members cannot even use proper terminology regarding the CEW. Pain mode? Which button works that? I cannot find it on any M26, X26, X26P, X2 or X3....

Percy @ 1/20/2016 10:56 PM

Another well written, researched, and very thoughtful comment.
Are you sure you're not S.S.?
Robert presents opinions and comments that are thoughtout and concise,
all you presesnt is a cop doing a traffic stop, badge heavy and completely
full of himself.

jack webb @ 1/21/2016 4:20 AM

In the future when your involved in a similar situation call kevCopAz, if he s not too busy lecturing, teaching with the Force Science Institute he says he would respond to the scene and show you how to do it !

jack webb @ 1/21/2016 4:26 AM

After reading all the EXPERT advice given in the aforementioned responses I wish someone would threaten to TASE me if I ever read any future "school yard arguments " posted on this site!

xxxxx @ 1/21/2016 11:10 AM

Seriously Percy? Every comment you make is nothing but anti cop inflammatory BS and as soon as someone says something to you want to cry. What do you expect when you post your crap on a police website, that you are going to be welcomed with opened arms?

Percy @ 1/21/2016 3:49 PM

@XXXXX says
"Seriously Percy? Every comment you make is nothing but anti cop inflammatory BS and as soon as someone says something to you want to cry. What do you expect when you post your crap on a police website, that you are going to be welcomed with opened arms?"
Yes dear, you are of course correct, we should all stick to making thoughtful, concise and well researched comments like

"xxxxx....OMG, Robert please just STFU"
"XXXXX....and after they all get released, I hope they all move into your neighborhood Leonard. Then you can all live in harmony with your super wonderful government programs".
"xxxxx....I hope that this article is slipped into whatever jail/prison these pieces of shit are staying in and a little street justice is handed out by the inmates. Double tap is simply too quick and much too easy.
"XXXXX....If there was any justice in the world, they would have found Percy in that trash bag.

I can explain it for you,I can't comprehend it for you.

xxxxx @ 1/21/2016 6:02 PM

Thanks for the re-post. That's good stuff. Did you print those and hang them on your wall?

ooooo @ 1/29/2016 11:02 AM

Real simple.......Why don't the doctors go out and bring them to the hospital themselves...Instead, they sit behind a desk and sign an order MANDATING the police bring the person to the hospital. Then, when the person refuses to go, the doctor, and people like leonard, want to weigh in with ...Why, Why , Why, How Come...etc! Not every situation goes as planned. Leonard, contrary to popular police officer want to harm someone and then spend the next 5-10 years defending him or herself in a courtroom against people like you! Just so you understand, Leonard, waiting for "someone with experience" is not an see, the person with experience has already MANDATED the police BRING HIM TO THE HOSPITAL!

Graham v. Conner @ 2/10/2016 11:35 AM

Pretty sure there is already case law covering all of these issues.
The qualified immunity fell into place, more than likely, because the Officers were within policy; attempted verbal and physical methods prior to the drive stun and had no reason to believe that this mentally ill person had a prior health risk to create a reasonable risk of death. The science with Tasers is out their, along with case law.
This article is both short sighted as well as poorly researched. Anyone who's ever taken Taser instruction would know.

Graham v. Conner @ 2/10/2016 11:41 AM

This ruling changes very little. All issues cited are included in other case law.
Qualified immunity kicked in i'm sure when; all policies were followed; attempts at verbal and physical persuasion were attempted prior to use. It's called a drive stun, not pain mode?!#[email protected] The articulation of the situation gave no indications that the mentally ill person was at risk for arrest related death. As long as those things were in place, then the officers acted within the boundary's of their position. This article was poorly researched.

Public Servant @ 2/12/2016 7:00 PM

So if Robert and Leonard are not officers (or retired officers) they really shouldn't be on this forum.

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