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New TASER decision has extra meat for law enforcement

Provided by Force Science News

A case involving the stun-drive Tasering of a handcuffed arrestee was decided this month by a federal Court of Appeals panel in Florida, with some instructive language regarding what's permissible in the handling of passively resisting subjects by an officer working alone.

In assessing a deputy's actions in delivering Taser shocks to an arrestee who would not get off the ground to be moved to a patrol car, the panel ruled 2-1 on Sept. 9 that:
  • • applying Taser prongs in an effort to motivate a nonviolent subject to stand up was not excessive force under Section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights Act;
    • to conserve valuable police time and energy, "the government has an interest in arrests being completed efficiently and without waste of limited resources";
    • an officer's call for backup "does not make the use of force before reinforcements arrive unreasonable" per se;
    • indeed, a single officer confronting a non-compliant suspect "need not…wait idly for backup to arrive to complete an otherwise lawful arrest."
With its ruling, written by Chief Judge J. L. Edmondson, the 11th circuit appellate court reversed a U.S. District Court decision that had judged the deputy guilty of "grossly disproportionate and unnecessary" force for applying the Taser in a pain-compliance mode.
"The language in this decision is outstanding in its importance to law enforcement," says Wayne Schmidt, executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, the nonprofit organization that monitors police- and corrections-related cases and provides legal guidance through its popular training seminars. "This decision goes beyond mere commentary on Taser use.
"Single officers faced with uncooperative subjects are often uncertain about what constitutes reasonable force in their situations. This court shows a realistic understanding of the challenges they face."
Like many appellate actions, this decision is unpublished, which means it is not binding on lower courts, Schmidt explained to Force Science News. "But I believe it will still be cited for the moral and persuasive authority of its reasonable arguments."

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