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Eighth Circuit: Officers Who Tased Arrestee to Force Clothing Change Immune

On September 3, 2015, the Eighth Circuit court of appeals held that St. Ann, Missouri police officials who used a Taser on an arrestee after she refused to change into orange jail clothing were protected against suit by qualified immunity.

Danelle Hollingsworth was arrested by City of St.-Ann police for stealing $7.38 worth of wine coolers. During booking at the police station, she was told to change into orange jail clothes in a private room. She refused. She was then told that she would be shocked with a Taser if she continued to refuse to change clothes. She refused again. A police officer then tased her for five seconds, asked her if she would comply and, when she cursed him, activated the Taser for another five seconds.

Hollingsworth filed a federal civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging police officials used excessive force or failed to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force and the City had an unconstitutional Taser policy that allowed its use on nonthreatening prisoners.

The district court found that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity as tasing Hollingsworth did not violate clearly established law and the City's policy did not cause a violation of her rights. Hollingsworth appealed.

Noting that a "requirement to change clothes is a reasonable means to maintain institutional safety and to preserve internal order, the Eighth Circuit concluded "that although the actions of one or more officers might have been unreasonable, their conduct did not violate clearly established law at the time of the incident." Further, the City's policy was "not unlawful on its face and did not compel unconstitutional action." Therefore, the judgment of the district court was upheld. See: Hollingsworth v. City of St. Ann, 8th Cir., No. 14-1583.

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Related legal case

Hollingsworth v. City of St. Ann