[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Tuesday that police must face an "immediate threat" from an offender before using a taser gun to subdue them. Sacramento County police officer Brian McPherson had shot Carl Bryan with a taser gun during a traffic stop causing him to fall face-first on the asphalt, fracturing his teeth and causing facial contusions. The court held that because Bryan's actions posed no threat to McPherson or others, the use of the taser was unwarranted and unconstitutional:
Although Bryan had shouted expletives to himself while pulling his car over and had taken to shouting gibberish, and more expletives, outside his car, at no point did he level a physical or verbal threat against Officer McPherson. An unarmed, stationary individual, facing away from an officer at a distance of fifteen to twenty-five feet is far from an “immediate threat” to that officer. Nor was Bryan’s erratic, but nonviolent, behavior a potential threat to anyone else… The circumstances here show that Officer McPherson was confronted by, at most, a disturbed and upset young man, not an immediately threatening one.
The case originated as a civil suit by Bryan against McPherson for the use of excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [text] and assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, a violation of California Civil Code § 52.1 [text]. The court below had also found in Bryan's favor.
The ruling is one of the most significant decisions yet concerning limitations on taser guns. In February, the American Civil Liberties Union [official website] petitioned [press release] the US Supreme Court to hear a case involving a Florida resident claiming excessive use of a taser gun by a law enforcement official. The petition involves the 2008 decision [text, PDF] of the Eleventh Circuit in which an officer was found to be justified in using the weapon. The event was captured [YouTube, video] on the officer's patrol car video camera.