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Friday, February 06, 2009

To tase or not to tase - ACLU asks U.S. Supreme Court to answer the question for first time

February 6th, 2009

MIAMI – In a petition submitted to the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida asked the nine Supreme Court Justices to rule that a law enforcement officer’s excessive use of force with a Taser is unconstitutional. The case offers the Supreme Court its first opportunity to address Taser abuse in an incident captured by a videocamera mounted on the patrol car dashboard of the Washington County, Florida Sheriff’s Deputy, Jonathan Rackard.

Deputy Rackard administered three five-second-long 50,000 volt discharges of a Taser to Jesse Buckley with the Taser in “drive-stun” mode, which means that the device was pressed directly against the skin instead of from a distance. The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the deputy’s actions violate the Fourth Amendment, since his only purpose was to inflict pain upon an already-handcuffed arrestee to make him stand up.

Buckley’s lawyer, James V. Cook of Tallahassee, Florida, posted the video on YouTube at the suggestion of the dissenting member of the Eleventh Circuit panel, Judge Beverly Martin. You can view the video of Jesse Buckley being actively tased by Deputy Rackard at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWC7iSGCk-s

“The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling licenses police officers to use Tasers as cattle prods to inflict gratuitous pain on a nonviolent handcuffed arrestee, simply to herd him towards a police car. The repeated and excruciatingly painful application of 50,000 volts of electricity was once the exclusive province of the agents and implements of torture, and cannot be condoned in a civilized society,” said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director.

On March 17, 2004, Mr. Buckley was arrested after refusing to sign a traffic citation during a routine traffic stop. He was handcuffed and voluntarily exited his vehicle, obviously in emotional distress, then fell to the ground. The arresting officer was under no apparent threat, as documented by the police car-mounted camera, yet “tased” Mr. Buckley three separate times. Each tase lasted five seconds, leaving 16 burn marks on his skin, some severe enough to produce keloid scars. Although Mr. Buckley never once actively resisted arrest nor attempted to flee, the officer continued to tase him solely to cause pain.

The federal district court held that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity, but by a split decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed that opinion. The 11th Circuit denied rehearing the case before the entire Circuit Court of Appeals, and upon denial the petition to move to the Supreme Court was made.

“The 11th Circuit opinion in Buckley v. Haddock represents a step backwards in police professionalism,” said Mr. Buckley’s trial court attorney, James Cook. “It takes us back several decades to a time when some law enforcement agencies gave officers permission to use old-fashioned electric cattle prods, along with dogs and fire hoses, to control people who were not being violent. We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will have the wisdom to revoke that permission.”

The ACLU of Florida and James Cook are confident that the Justices will recognize the egregious harm to Mr. Buckley and the insult to the Fourth Amendment.

A PDF of the petition can be downloaded at: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/BuckleyCert-final.pdf

The ACLU of Florida filed the petition in the U.S Supreme Court on Tuesday. Counsel for Jesse Daniel Buckley is Michael R. Masinter, ACLU Board Member and Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center; James V. Cook; Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director; and Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director.


Nate said...

With this SCOTUS, I expect to be disappointed. I can't imagine Scalia, Alito, or Roberts being interested in upholding constitutional protections for citizens.

I guess it's time to start looking into TI's courting of SCOTUS judges. You can bet they're already lobbying heavily to avoid having this heard.

Excited-Delirium.com said...

SCOTUS can either provide a stamp-of-approval for 'The Police State', or they can choose to uphold long-established, basic human rights and (perhaps more importantly for them) 'The Rule of Law'.

The actions of the officer in this case clearly meet the internationally-approved legal definition of torture. They will almost certainly find that the police officer was using 'torture', and they'll issue a decision banning it.

If things go well, they will have a look at the Taser training and implicate that training material in the unconstitutional abuse of rights. If that happens, then Taser could be bankrupted a trillion times over. It's a long shot unless someone explicitly pursues that line of argument.