Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don't tase me, bro!

Ever been tased? I haven't been, and I hope you haven't been, either. Some people in Vermont were tased, and they sued the police under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the excessive use of force in arresting people. The Court of Appeals says they cannot sue the police.

The case is Crowell v. Kirkpatrick, a summary order issued on November 15. The plaintiffs were protesting something or other, and they chained themselves to a several hundred pound barrel drum and refused to free themselves. They also summoned other members of their group to return to the property. The police, meanwhile, could not get these people to just go away. The police got what they wanted when the tased the protesters, who were then charged with trespass and resisting arrest.

While cautioning that tasering is not always justified, the Second Circuit (Livingston, Chin and Larimer [D.J.]) rules the Fourth Amendment did not prohibit the police from tasing the plaintiffs. The court says, "because they had chained themselves to the drum, Plaintiffs could not have been arrested and removed from the scene by more conventional means, and the apparently imminent arrival of some number of their compatriots added a degree of urgency to the need to remove Plaintiffs quickly, before the presence of other protesters made that more difficult to accomplish. The officers attempted to use other means to effectuate the arrest, none of which proved feasible, and used the taser only as a last resort, after warning Plaintiffs and giving them a last opportunity to unchain themselves from the barrel and leave the premises peacefully."

The Second Circuit also says the police acted reasonably under the circumstances because they set the taser on "drive stun" mode, which "causes temporary, if significant, pain and no permanent injury." If you Google "drive stun taser," there is no shortage of website and YouTube videos on the practice. It hurts like the devil, and someone in Georgia died from it. Since this case is a summary order, it does not have much precedential value, but I know of few taser cases in the Second Circuit, so for now this case is all the guidance that law enforcement has on the practice.

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