Saturday, December 08, 2007

Officer Tazers man during traffic stop: reasonable, or unreasonable?

Down at the Volokh Conspiracy, legal scholar Orin Kerr posts a video of a recent police stop in Utah where the officer electrically shocks the driver with a Tazer for failing to comply with his instructions. Was the officer's decision to use the Taser a reasonable use of force? Here's the video:

I say the officer's use of force was unreasonable. The police officer was not clear about his intention to place the driver under arrest. The driver, albeit confused and mildly agitated, thought he was negotiating his citation throughout the encounter. The police officer did not refute this mistaken, yet not dishonest premise. The police officer did not indicate the offense the driver was charged with, or that any further discussion or debate should be saved for a judge. Lastly, the police officer did not in any way indicate that the driver's signing of the citation was not an admission of guilt, but instead allowed the officer to release the driver without arresting him.

Knowledge of this incentive would likely have led to marked change in the driver's reaction. Instead, the police officer used his weapon to subdue a man who presented no immediate physical threat to him. I say his actions fit the definition of unreasonable to the letter.

Furthermore, as part of the practical aspect of policing, the officer's conduct escalated the situation rather then subdued it. If I were his superior, I'd fire him for recklessness and unprofessional conduct.

How do you call it though? Was the officer's use of force reasonable, or unreasonable?


Michael Smith said...

Essentially, the police officer is asserting the right to Tazer a non-threatening citizen simply because he did not comply with one of the officer's instructions. I say the officer's actions are completely unreasonable. I hope he gets fired and sued.

Jack Galt said...

I agree wholeheartedly with both Nicholas and Michael. In addition to the officer's ethical and legal breach, I find his whole antiseptic demeanor disturbing. "Obey my every whim, or I will cause you excruciating pain without so much as quiver."

While the driver was no John Galt, one thinks of Galt strapped in the torture chair and the kind of mentality it took to torture him. I hope the officer is off the streets and no longer a threat to those we would police.

Mike said...

In most jurisdictions, officer presence ALONE is considered appropriate use of force to issue a citation. A person can be argumentative and this may upset an officer, but the Tazer was designed to be a non-lethal instrument for controlling suspects who present physical threats -- i.e. anything from being drugged out and a danger to bystanders and themselves, to the opposite end of the spectrum and attacking the officer purposefully. If I were practicing in the arrestee's jurisdiction, I would gladly offer him contingency to take this case, because it's a winner. Disclaimers: I am not offering legal advice, and I am not a licensed attorney in that man's jurisdiction.

Ryan said...

For contrast, here is an officer that handles himself professionally in a much more stressful situation:

Anonymous said...

Cops are in on the gangstalking, go to and check it out, you will be surprised who is in on it and what their tactics are. We know of plenty of cases where the police harassed and abused people for no reason whatsoever. They like to use their power on people. There is a book called "L.A. Secret Police" and the author was trained to be a cop and he tells how they were taught to abuse people. He saw the cops make a guy put his hands on the police car door and then the cop smashed his hands with the baton and broke the bones in his hands for no reason at all. Just to be mean. Also, the cops are calling people and hanging up, just go to "who called us" where you can report numbers that go into your caller ID and see if anyone else has had calls from that number and one of the numbers is from the police who are calling and asking for money and a lot of times they just call and hang up on the people. They have done it to me. That is how I wound up at that site by typing the number in the search box and it took me there and there were a lot of complainst about the cops calling people and hanging up on them. Why don't they do their job instead of playing around on the phone like a bunch of kids. In California the law requires vehicles to have a front license plate but there are millions of vehicles with no front plates and the cops refuse to ticket them. And when you do call them they say it will take them three days to come out. This town in only two or three miles across in any direction and yet they say it will take them three days to come out. They stopped one person for having the plastic shield over their front plate but there are millions of others with the shields and they won't do anything to them. My friend had to call them about fifty times to make them come out and make one person put a front plate on their vehicle. There are vehicles all over town parked in the red fire zones and they don't do a thing about it no matter how many times you call and tell them. They always get smart when you call them, too. And if you give them a specific location like right in front of Walmart, they ask you what the address is. They do it every time. No matter how specific you are they ask for the address. They are a bunch of jerks.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Is there a formal, commonly-used, legal definition of "reasonable"?

I have heard the term used in connection with juries. A jury sometimes must decide what a "reasonable man" would have done in a certain situation--e.g., buying a product with certain expectations, even though there is no written contract; or as another example, a man walks in the front door of a house, with a mistaken address, and is shot by the homeowner.

Suggestions for a definition?

As a side note, I see in local news accounts, the Portland, Oregon police try to reduce confusion (leading to shootings and law suits) by constantly adding to and refining their book of procedures. Objectively practicable procedures reduce the painful errors that occur when too much is left to the judgment of individual police officers who are under great stress, not just in particular situations, but day after day.

It seems to work. Unfortunately, there are victims--both police and others--along the path of learning.

Steve said...

Here's another one that happened a few weeks ago in my city:

I suspect this is just a trickle-down effect from the law becoming less objective. It starts in the courtroom and eventually finds it's way onto the street. There's a mix of laws designed to protect rights vs. those designed to control citizens. As that mix changes, it's bound to confuse the issue, as well as attract the wrong kind of personality to law enforcement.

Anonymous said...

When I watch something that appalling and savage, I find it hard to withhold a visceral response. The police officer is guilty of assault. As punishment, my first response is to want to see that police officer shocked with a Tazer until he's a screaming, drooling lump of goo and while his family had to stand there and watch in terror.

Fortunately for the officer, the law prohibits cruel and unusual punishment—a point I hope he remembers next time he pulls someone over for speeding and thinks about dispensing his vile brand of highway justice.

Anonymous said...

while i do belive the officer was a bit too harsh you have to understand the driver did nothing to help the situation either. cops have suck a back reputation that people now dis-obey them when they get in order from an officer. when the man choose to not sign the ticket they officer had reason to arrest him. the man then resisted arrest. further more the driver started to head back to his car. the officer has no clue if it was to get a gun or a weapon of some kind. the officer was well within his rights.