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Federal court in California limits police use of Tasers

The appeals court ruling could raise the bar for when the electric stun-guns can be deployed. Local police departments said the ruling puts officers' lives in danger.

The '"Taser X26'" worn by Tampa, Florida Police Officer John Belk is seen in this July 15, 2009 photo. A federal appeals court panel ruled that a California police officer was not immune from civil litigation resulting from questionable use of the weapon.

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In a decision that could alter how law enforcement agencies nationwide use stun guns, a federal appeals court panel this week ruled that a California police officer was not immune from civil litigation resulting from questionable use of the controversial weapon.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday removed a legal roadblock holding up a lawsuit against Coronado, Calif., police officer Brian McPherson, who fired his Taser stun gun at motorist Carl Bryan after a 2005 traffic stop.

Mr. Bryan sued Officer McPherson, the Coronado Police Department, and the City of Coronado for excessive force, assault, and infliction of emotional stress. A lower court ruled that Coronado and its police department were immune from the case but not the officer because he used the electroshock weapon in a way that appeared to be unreasonable and unlawful. The appeals court affirmed that ruling.

If the ruling is not overturned by the US Supreme Court, it could change how as many as 11,500 US law enforcement agencies currently use their stun guns. Many agencies, according to experts, give officers wide latitude in determining the appropriate use of the weapons. The ruling now raises the bar for when the weapons can be deployed, stating that while stun guns are considered nonlethal weapons, they dispense a level of force that must be justified by a “strong government interest.”

The use of stun guns should be limited to situations where there is "an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public," wrote Judge Kim Wardlaw, who penned the court's opinion.

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