Supreme Court orders reconsideration of taser death lawsuit

reconsider taserThe U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Baron Pikes.

Pikes was shot by police in Winnfield, Louisiana with a taser gun at least eight times over 14 minutes and later died of cardiac arrest. The lawsuit against a former Winnfield police officer asks “whether the police used excessive force against Pikes, especially because he was handcuffed.”

The 5th Circuit previously dismissed the lawsuit after it found that Pikes’ constitutional rights weren’t clearly violated, providing the officer immunity from being sued for monetary damages.

Qualified immunity is generally invoked where it is not clear whether a police officer has violated the constitutional rights of the victim. In other words, the doctrine allows the police to violate your constitutional rights, as long as those rights were not clearly established by some prior judicial decision.

In cases involving allegations of excessive force, qualified immunity is generally not available because liability for the underlying violation turns on the reasonableness of the officer’s conduct, and what is “reasonable” under a given set of circumstances is generally a question of fact that is not susceptible to resolution by a court.

In Oklahoma, courts generally refuse to apply qualified immunity in excessive force cases.  The exception to this rule involves situations where there is no dispute regarding the use of force, including the need to use force in the first instance, and the amount of force used by the officer.  Because agreement on these points is generally lacking, cases involving excessive force require resolution by a jury.

If you have questions about the use of Tasers or excessive force generally, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill, 918-935-2777.