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Qualified Immunity Denied in Taser Suit

On December 28, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a denial of qualified immunity for a police officer accused of using excessive force during a traffic stop.

Carl Bryan was stopped by Officer Brian McPherson of the Coronado Police Department for a seatbelt violation. Bryan had been having a bad day and was still upset after having been ticketed by another cop a little while earlier.

McPherson told Bryan to stay in his car, but Bryan did not. He got out and began yelling gibberish to himself and kept hitting his thighs. He was 20 to 25 feet from McPherson and was clad only in boxer shorts and tennis shoes.

Things turned for the worse when Bryan allegedly took “one step” toward McPherson. McPherson unholstered a Taser and shot Bryan in the back of his left arm and back, causing Bryan to fall face first to the ground. Bryan broke four teeth and suffered facial contusions as a result of the fall.

The Ninth Circuit decided that Tasers are a significant means of exacting force, notwithstanding their non-lethal nature. This in mind, the court concluded that McPherson was properly denied qualified immunity.

“No reasonable officer confronting a situation where the need for force is at its lowest – where the target is a nonviolent, stationary misdemeanant twenty feet away – would have concluded that deploying intermediate force without warning was justified,” the court wrote.

The judgment of the district court was accordingly affirmed. See: Bryan v. McPherson, 590 F.3d 767 (9th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Bryan v. McPherson