How long can police continue to use a Taser against a suspect? In a recent opinion from the Tenth Circuit, the court held that police must discontinue use of a Taser once a suspect is subdued. It further held the law in this regard is well-established.
In Perea v. Baca, police responded to a 911 call about a young man who was acting irrationally, “Perea was pacing in
his yard, clutching a Bible, and asking forgiveness of a higher power.”
When they arrived, the officers were told that Perea suffered from mental health issues and had a verbal exchange with family before leaving on his bike. The officers were told Perea was unarmed.
A few minutes later, the officers found Perea riding his bike. Perea peddled faster when he observed the police and blew through a stop sign. The police pulled in front of Perea and shoved him off the bike.
Once on the ground, Perea struggled with officers while clutching a crucifix. Based on the resistance, one officer tased Perea in dart mode. The taser was ineffective, and the officers switched to stun mode. Perea was then tasered 10 times in just under two minutes. The officers already had Perea subdued on the ground.
This is where the trouble started for the court.
Although Perea was subdued, the officers continued to taser him. Perea stopped breathing, turned gray, and eventually died. In evaluating the need to continue tasering Perea, the court observed that he was not suspected of committing any serious crime, there was no evidence that Perea posed any threat of serious harm, and the court concluded the force used was not proportional to the resistance.
Although the case was decided under federal law, Oklahoma closely tracks federal jurisprudence. In fact, Oklahoma law provides even greater protections to Oklahomans. For this reason, it is likely that an Oklahoma court will view the decision favorably when evaluating similar claims brought under Oklahoma state law.