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Officer Tazers man during traffic stop: reasonable, or unreasonable?

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By Nicholas Provenzo from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog

Down at the Volokh Conspiracy, legal scholar Orin Kerr posts a video of a recent police stop in Utah where the officer electrically shocks the driver with a Tazer for failing to comply with his instructions. Was the officer's decision to use the Taser a reasonable use of force? Here's the video:

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I say the officer's use of force was unreasonable. The police officer was not clear about his intention to place the driver under arrest. The driver, albeit confused and mildly agitated, thought he was negotiating his citation throughout the encounter. The police officer did not refute this mistaken, yet not dishonest premise. The police officer did not indicate the offense the driver was charged with, or that any further discussion or debate should be saved for a judge. Lastly, the police officer did not in any way indicate that the driver's signing of the citation was not an admission of guilt, but instead allowed the officer to release the driver without arresting him.

Knowledge of this incentive would likely have led to marked change in the driver's reaction. Instead, the police officer used his weapon to subdue a man who presented no immediate physical threat to him. I say his actions fit the definition of unreasonable to the letter.

Furthermore, as part of the practical aspect of policing, the officer's conduct escalated the situation rather then subdued it. If I were his superior, I'd fire him for recklessness and unprofessional conduct.

How do you call it though? Was the officer's use of force reasonable, or unreasonable?197554612

http://ObjectivismOnline.com/archives/003054.html

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Yeah the officer didn't seem to have explained what signing the citation was for very well. The guy obviously wanted an explanation before signing anything, which I thought was pretty reasonable. When the driver got out of the car, I don't think he was aware of the fact that he was being arrested. He was kind of slowly walking away, but the officer didn't really give him any verbal warnings and just tazed him.

I don't know how the law is written, but are we always supposed to just obey a police officer without question? I mean, asking for an explanation seems pretty normal.

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The fundamental question in a civilized society is whether men should submit to the rule of law and objective judgment, which leads to the question whether you should obey lawful instructions given by the police. The man didn't, so the ensuing question is, at what point should an officer use force to enforce the law. (The idea that the police will use force to enforce the law is implicit in the notion of "enforcing the law"). The one imaginable procedural error that the officer made is that he did not (apparently) inform the perp that he was under arrest, although I actually can't tell for sure because the audio is lousy. Nevertheless, when lawfully ordered to put your hands behind your back, it is not reasonable to assume that that is a polite suggestion, and the mad had to know that he was getting cuffed. Even though the word "arrest" was not uttered, the man could not have reasonably doubted that he was being arrested. The question whether the form of force was appropriate is too subtle to me -- I don't know how to judge whether shooting him, tasering him, wrestling with him or beating him with a club is better. Whether or not the event passed the departmental threshhold for use of force is a cop question, so my analysis doesn't say "I know that the cop followed proper procedure", I'm saying that "Reasonable guidelines could include this as a case of justified force".

The suggestion that the issue is "open to negotiation" is not a reasonable one. The guy may well have thought that as long as you're talking, you don't have to comply with police orders, but that presumption is fundamentally flawed (citizen's fillibuster is a clever idea but at some point you just have to give up, obey the law, and duke it out in court).

There's an important distinction to be made, pertaining to the "presented no immediate physical threat to him" question, that the use of force by a citizen is justified in self defense against physical threats, but in the case of a police officer, they are also justified in using force to secure compliance with the law. Of course we can argue forever about whether legal speed limits are proper, and that isn't the root question. The root question is, under what circumstances is an officer justified in using force. There are significant dangers residing in the neighborhood of assuming that laws should not be enforced until they have been clearly explained to the arrestee, i.e. nec potest per ignorantiam excusari.

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The root question is, under what circumstances is an officer justified in using force.

When non-compliance with the law is to the extent that the officers know he won't obey orders. Obviously certain times call for certain measures though. The more immediate of danger the officer(or others) is in, the more lethal weapons he can choose to use.

When the driver got out of the car, I don't think he was aware of the fact that he was being arrested. He was kind of slowly walking away, but the officer didn't really give him any verbal warnings and just tazed him.

I want to point out that the Taser gun was pointed at the suspect for quite awhile, meaning the suspect should have been certain that disputing the case was done. As soon as the suspect started back towards his vehicle, that raised the potential danger he was going to put people in because the officer has to expect the worse, which was the suspect possibly fleeing in his vehicle. Given the principle I think officers should go by, the officer made an acceptable decision.

Edited by progressiveman1
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I think the officer should have explained that signing does not mean an admission of guilt. And he should have said that, if the ticket is not signed, the guy will be placed under arrest. However, I'm not sure that would have made a difference to this guy. The officer told him to turn around and place his hands behind his back, and instead the guy continued to walk away from the officer and argue. Also, the officer pointed the taser, then repeated the order, and still the guy didn't listen. So what was the officer to do at that point? I don't think it's such a clear cut case. I do not envy the judge(s) who will be asked to decide it.

The police officer should be fired and have criminal charges brought against him.
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The officer does clearly tell him the ticket is for speeding (at 2:13-2:14) in response to the driver's query. That was the very first thing the officer said when he stopped him and that was what the driver argued about through most of the tape so it's unreasonable to think that the driver did not know the charge. Most states have a provision that should a person refuse to sign a citation, they are subject to physical arrest. I do not think it is reasonable to assume that getting a ticket is ope for negotiation. Once the officer has written the summons and returns to the vehicle saying "sign here", he's not asking, he's not negotiating, and it's not a request. Summonses and arrests are not a matter of "if you want, can you please sign this" or "if you want, I'm going to take you to jail now". The officer only has to endure as much argument and/or resistance as necessary to determine whether or not the suspect appears as though he is going to comply with instructions or submit to arrest. In this case, the suspect made it clear several times he had no intention of submitting to arrest, by form of the summons or otherwise. The summons is merely a process by which a person is charged in lieu of a physical arrest should they comply with the requirements of being summoned, i.e. signing it.

The SCOTUS has recognized that commands like "turn around and put your hands behind your back" are sufficient that a person should know that they are not free to go; that they are being placed under arrest or are being detained for investigation. (That works both ways too when it comes to other things like consent searches and 5th amendment issues) At the moment when the officer tells the man to "turn around and put your hands behind you back", if the man takes any action to avoid that arrest or detention he can be considered legally to be "actively resisting". If he just stood there and argued but took no action to prevent the officer from arresting him, he would be considered a "passive resister" and the TASER would not have been a viable option (by most department's standards). In this case, the man starts to walk off back towwards his car, clearly indicating that he was actively not submitting to arrest. I would suspect that on that officer's police department, the TASER can be used on a person who is actively resisting arrest (which is a pretty common place for the TASER on the use of force continuum). The "threat" posed to the officer (and the suspect) in this case is that now the officer is forced by the suspect's actions to physically stop the suspect against his will. He is not required in this instance to try to put his hands on the guy in order to affect that stop.

I have problems with some of the things in this stop, but they are not related to whether or not the officer's use of force was legal. I'm pretty sure that they were both lawful and within his department's policy. That may bring about argument as to whether the law or a deparment's policy should be changed, but I don't think any sanction should be taken against the officer in this case for his use of force based on the rules he has to operate under. "Excessive force" is a legal determination based on a standard of law and policy and I don't see it here. He was however exceedingly stupid for walking away from his suspect and letting him get up and walk around uncontrolled, handcuffed or otherwise. He also made some pretty flippant remarks that I would have considered inappropriate for the situation.

I've recently been through TASER training and it is considered a "non-lethal" or "less than lethal" use of force option. There is a ton of legal wrangling about those two terms because of a very few cases in which the TASER may have been deemed a contributing factor in in-custody deaths. However, short of subjects who are in states of "excited delirium" (in which the TASER was only deemed one factor), I'm not aware of any in-custody deaths which were attributed to the application of the TASER. The TASER is a pain compliance tool with the added benefit of interrupting muscular signals from the brain when applied in certain ways. But in listening to other officers and suspects, it is VERY painful during the application. I've been shocked a few times with a "stun gun" and the TASER is reportedly more intense.

In my experience, the application of pain compliant techniques brings about heated debates (often emotionally-charged) and the TASER is no exception. However, it has been my experience that these options (TASER, pepper spray) have typically reduced the incidents of people, suspects or officers, actually being physically injured as a result of an arrest where the suspect was resisting. Based on what I've learned, the TASER is likely to be a far more effective option over pepper spray though neither work 100% of the time.

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When non-compliance with the law is to the extent that the officers know he won't obey orders.
Do you mean "won't ever under any conditions obey"? I think that is a reasonable conclusion to draw from the man's behavior. I will say that I find the case to be on the marginal side, but it seems to me to be inside the boundaries, not outside. (That's in lieu of specific knowledge of particular state law and department procedure). So the question is, does a citizen have an open-ended right to filibuster in order to avoid complying with lawful orders? I think a citizen has a right to request some minimal clarification when the order is not clear (i.e. you don't hear it, you don't understand the meaning of the words), but otherwise, he should obey the order, and he is wrong to resist the order. I've been in the circumstance where a cop gestures mystically when I'm driving and I have no clue what he wants; it's generally resolved by rolling down the window and saying "Where??". I can't make out a lot of the talk when the guy is in the car, but I can't see how there could have been any confusion over what he was being told to do, and that I think is the only legitimate reason to not immediately comply.

FYI, if this had been in Kentucky, I think the cop would have been in the wrong because they have a requirement to first inform a perp of the intent to arrest.

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You don't envy the judge? I don't envy the cop like this that probably has to put up with stuff like this on a regular basis. The practical implementation of the law requires that a policeman be able to arrest and detain someone when they do not comply with his orders (granted that his orders should be focused towards upholding the law).

The citizen was behaving like the two of them were two well-aquinted individuals who could just discuss this matter. He didn't seem to understand that when you're speaking to an officer when the officer or oneself or both of you are involved in a situation, you're speaking to a representative of the law, who's job it is is not to negotiate with you, but to see that things are done to the book.

I honestly don't feel sympathy towards this man, although I do understand the errors he made. He was acting like more and more of an asshole throughout the video, "Hey man, you've gotta do this! Come here! Listen to me! I know more about your job than you do!". I'm more reading between the lines there. :santa:

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Do you mean "won't ever under any conditions obey"?

Not exactly. Sometimes a suspect is non-threatening but just won't listen to orders, and if the officer waited for them all day to comply then the suspect may comply. That's obviously not reasonable though. I agree with you that the suspect may, depending on the circumstances, be allowed to ask for minimal clarification. It's once he starts disobeying strict, simple orders it becomes a problem.

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Yeah, I don't envy the judge because, due to the attention this case is getting on the Internet, he will be under a lot of pressure to punish the cop. And I'm not sure it's justified to do so. The judge will likely come under attack no matter which way he comes out on the case.

You don't envy the judge? I don't envy the cop like this that probably has to put up with stuff like this on a regular basis. The practical implementation of the law requires that a policeman be able to arrest and detain someone when they do not comply with his orders (granted that his orders should be focused towards upholding the law).

The citizen was behaving like the two of them were two well-aquinted individuals who could just discuss this matter. He didn't seem to understand that when you're speaking to an officer when the officer or oneself or both of you are involved in a situation, you're speaking to a representative of the law, who's job it is is not to negotiate with you, but to see that things are done to the book.

I honestly don't feel sympathy towards this man, although I do understand the errors he made. He was acting like more and more of an asshole throughout the video, "Hey man, you've gotta do this! Come here! Listen to me! I know more about your job than you do!". I'm more reading between the lines there. :santa:

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Of COURSE there is an unreasonable use of force involved--but it has nothing to do with the taser. The use of force was initiated when the government arrogated to itself the right to monopolize the construction of roads and to enforce speed limits on them. Everything that happens after that is just the specific way this use of force happens to play out.

I think both the cop and the arrestee acted in a stupid way, for reasons others have already pointed out. The use of the taser was actually the least irrational moment of the whole episode.

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Yeah, I don't envy the judge because, due to the attention this case is getting on the Internet, he will be under a lot of pressure to punish the cop.

I'm not sure what you mean by the judge punishing the cop unless you are talking about the suspect suing the cop for a civil rights violation. I don't see any judge punishing the cop. Okay, maybe the 9th circuit because they have come out with some whacked judgments before ( :santa: ) but Utah's in the 10th circuit. In light of my experience, I would say that even if the guy tries to sue the cop, the judge won't punish him. This isn't even borderline in my mind. For a suit like that to be successful in court, the officer would have had to have been grossly negligent or malicious. The suspect actively resisted a lawful arrest and the officer used force appropriate for an active resister.

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I have no experience in this area, but is this really how police officers are supposed to act?

It looked to me like in the first few seconds of the video that the speed-limit sign was very low to the ground in the right-side emergency lane and that the police car pulls to the side of the road directly in front of it -- possibly blocking the view of the sign to the driver of the vehicle behind.

As the police car was in the emergency lane on the side of the road, the vehicle behind passes in the right hand highway lane. The police car immediately pulls left around the speed-limit sign and back into the right-hand highway lane to pursue the vehicle for speeding. The driver of the vehicle that had just passed the police car immediately pulls over into the right-side emergency lane. The police officer checked out his license and other documents, which appeared to be in order, his vehicle appears in good condition, he is reasonably presentable, and he is with a woman companion. In other words, he has lots to indicate he is just a young man arguing about a speeding ticket, feeling secure in his rights and that he would be treated reasonably by the police officer (however misguided that expectation may have been). It was hard to make out, but there may have been some discussion between them about whether the speed-limit sign was the only one or whether there was one farther back down the road.

When presented with the citation, the young driver argues and refuses to sign it, wanting to talk about where the speed-limit sign is first, before signing anything. The officer argues that the driver has to sign the citation first, suggesting that they can talk about where the speed-limit sign is after that. After a little back and forth, the officer seems to relent and says in a somewhat resigned voice: "OK, hop out of the car." After saying only those few words in a resigned voice, the police officer turns his back on the driver and walks back toward the squad car -- which is also back toward the speed-limit sign.

It could reasonably be taken that the officer is agreeing to go look at the speed-limit sign first before making the driver sign the citation. The officer doesn’t explain that the consequence for not signing would be arrest or that he is arresting him or anything else.

The driver gets out of the vehicle and follows the police officer. The young driver starts pointing back down the road and calmly arguing about the situation. When he got out of the car, he was probably thinking they were going back to go look at the speed-limit sign.

But the officer, apparently already having planned what he was going to do, puts down his clipboard on the squad car, turns around and suddenly orders the following young man: “Turn around and put your hands behind your back” while immediately and simultaneously drawing his taser gun.

The policeman’s behavior is sudden and unexpected, without any warning or explanation. It goes from zero to full force without anything a reasonable person could gauge is coming, and probably less so for a somewhat argumentative young man who appeared to trust (mistakenly) that the police officer should be someone he can reason with. To him, the officer seemed to have suddenly “lost it” – all sense of proportion over a speeding ticket, anyway, and all credibility as a police officer.

The young man turns his back on the officer with his pointed taser gun and calmly starts to walk back toward his vehicle -- not running and not threatening the officer in the least -- but over his shoulder asking: “What the heck is wrong with you?” They each repeat once, and then the officer tasers the man in the back.

It appears to me that the young man trusted the police officer at some very basic level, did not expect to be shot, and did not understand why the officer was behaving the way he was suddenly behaving.

The police officer may have been within bounds of law and policy, but I wonder if some older, more experienced officer could have talked the young man through the situation without arresting him, let alone tasering him, so that he could go on down the road with his family and just a speeding ticket.

Edited by Old Toad
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The police officer may have been within bounds of law and policy, but I wonder if some older, more experienced officer could have talked the young man through the situation without arresting him, let alone tasering him, so that he could go on down the road with his family and just a speeding ticket.

We can speculate and wonder what an older officer might have done and we can speculate as to whether or not the man would have behaved differently. An older more experienced officer might have talked more and it might have made a difference or it might not have. An older officer might have tried to grab him instead of tasering him and he might have complied at that point or he might have become combative and they could have wrestled around on the highway or the side of the road. Any number of things might have been different if a more experienced officer had handled it and it still might have ended just as it did there.

Whether or not the officer could have been clearer about certain other points, he was very clear about these points; 1) he was stopped for speeding; 2) he had to sign the summons; and 3) he was taking the man into custody. The man on the other was very clear about these things; 1) I'm not going to sign the summons; 2) you are going to do what I tell you do officer; 3) I'm not going to comply with your instructions to place my hands behind my back.

If the officer "relented" to anything when he ordered the guy out of the car, it was that he was going to have to arrest the guy instead of issuing him the summons. Whether or not it could be reasonably taken that the officer was intending to look at the sign once the guy got out was quickly dispelled when the officer pointed the TASER at the man and ordered him to place his hands behind his back. At that point it would be unreasonable to think anything other than the officer is arresting him. It is also unreasonable at that point to think that he can just walk away and ignore the instructions the officer is giving him. Whether he calmly walks away, or whether he runs away, he's still actively resisting being arrested.

Personally speaking, I would love to be able to be perfectly nice to all people when enforcing the law. I would love it if we could take the 'force' out of enforcement. But some people, even people who appear nice and have their loved ones in their car, still think that they don't have to obey lawful authority. Frequently the outcome is the same, when an officer applies force to make them comply, they cry foul. Law enforcement isn't always nice, it's not always open to debate on the side of a busy highway and sometimes "nice" people have to be forced to comply with the law. A reasonable person should realize that the place to try the facts is the court, before an objective authority who can review the facts. If there was not a sign a half a mile back as the officer said (which however much trust he had for the officer, he didn't trust that to be true), the man could still have testified to it had he complied with the officers instructions.

Whatever might have happened if that officer or another officer had handled the situation differently, the more reasonable speculation is that if he had signed the summons or complied with the arrest, he would not have been tasered.

Do you think the officer would have tasered him anyway?

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Hi RB,

I wasn't speculating about the facts -- I paid attention to the details of words and conduct leading up to the tasering.

Whether or not the officer could have been clearer about certain other points, ...

The officer certainly was not clear about a certain crucial point. Based on the evidence of the video, he was unclear about the requirement for signing the summons first vs. after going back to look at the sign situation.

If the officer "relented" to anything when he ordered the guy out of the car, it was that he was going to have to arrest the guy instead of issuing him the summons.

Based on the objective evidence of the tape, I think that the officer's words and conduct did not fairly communicate this to the driver.

As John Q. Citizen here, I think the officer's lack of clarity and confusing conduct needlessly escalated the situation. The man was sitting in his car arguing about the situation. Regardless of any speculation of whether or not a few more sentences from the officer explaining the situation to the man would have worked or not, the video evidence shows that the man was not so active, beligerent, or irrational as to not deserve the small additional effort to explain the alternative. If it doesn't work, fine, try to arrest him, and if he resists, taser him, even shoot him, if necessary.

I certainly wouldn't tout this as a public-relations video for the police, and I wonder about this officer's training and judgment.

Do you think the officer would have tasered him anyway?

I never suggested that.

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This whole situation probably could have been avoided in the first place if the officer had simply stated plainly that the young man had two options: sign the citation, or be arrested. That was the first thing that the officer could have done to defuse the situation.

The conversation between the young man and the officer was cordial, and I agree with Old Toad that -given the lack of any explanation or warning what so ever as far as we can tell from the officer- there was really no reason why the young man should think that he was being arrested. Well, at least not until he had a weapon pointed at him completely out of the blues and told to put his arm behind his head -- when seconds before the police officer had been completely calm. He was suddenly threatened with force and placed in a escalating violent situation. The situation was so sudden in fact that he very well might not recognized the weapon as non-lethal, and he was obviously scared and had no idea what was going on. So the second thing the officer could have done to avoid the situation was -when faced with an apparently unarmed and civil young man- give advance warning about the arrest without shouting and pointing a weapon at the man's face. The tazer could have simply been out in plain sight to indicate that he was armed.

Obviously the young man did not behave ideally. But all of his actions were pretty typical and not unexpected. BECAUSE the police officer is an agent of the law dealing with citizens who are generally unfamiliar with legal protocols, I think he has the responsibility to communicate clearly what he was going to do in a non-threatening situation. Not necessarily going over the law letter by letter, but at least state concisely what he needs from you and why. I don't necessarily think that the officer did anything illegal or deserve some sort of punishment, but he definitely handled the situation very poorly.

Edited by Moebius
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This whole situation probably could have been avoided in the first place if the officer had simply stated plainly that the young man had two options: sign the citation, or be arrested. That was the first thing that the officer could have done to defuse the situation.

Based on the evidence of the tape, there is no reason to conclude he would have submitted to arrest then any more than when he was being arrested. The guy mistakenly thought that the summons and the arrest were negotiable, which they were not.

I'm not defending whether the officer handled the situation in the best possible manner, I'm defending that he did what I think was necessary in terms of policy and law, given the disclaimer that Utah policy and law may be different than in my jurisdiction. As a said before, people are free speculate the what-ifs about how the situation could have been different. When (if) this goes to a civil court, what will be evaluated is what did not happen, not what might have happened. The good thing here is that, one way or another, the incident is on tape and audio and can be reviewed both by his department's internal review process and by the courts as evidence. I'm all for these video tapes.

It has been mentioned before that the suspect also had his right hand in his pocket. He probably had nothing there, but the officer doesn't know that (and probably should have told him to show his hands) so part of the escalation of force was likely due to that fact.

Obviously the young man did not behave ideally. But all of his actions were pretty typical and not unexpected.

No, they were not IMHO. Out of the hundreds (or more) of summons I've written, including many more of ones I've assisted other officers with or know to be have been written, I can only think of two in which someone who otherwise appears to be "normal" refused to sign the summons and had to be arrested. (Obviously others were vehicle pursuits or foot pursuits of more "thuglike" - less normal- suspects). In every other case, even those in which an officer's actions were grossly inappropriate, people signed the summons. With the exception of getting out of the car (probably under the mistaken premise that Old Toad mentioned about going back to look at the sign), the man was defiant against being charged, whether by summons or arrest. While you think that a clarification of the consequence of not signing the summons could have made a difference, I think that based on the totality of the tape it would not have. That guy was intent on settling the matter on the side of the road, not in the proper forum of the court.

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I wasn't speculating about the facts --

but I wonder if some older, more experienced officer could have talked the young man through the situation without arresting him, let alone tasering him,

This was the speculation I addressed.

I certainly wouldn't tout this as a public-relations video for the police,

I wouldn't either. I only evaluated whether or not the force was reasonable or unreasonable (as the thread title asks) according to what I understand of the legal standards. However, a court and/or his department may conclude differently, though I doubt that. I expect a wide variety of opinions from "the public". I've seen textbook use of force cases where "the public" cried police brutality so that's why I'm glad we have multi-layered court system to evaluate these things from a more informed perspective. Please understand that I do give a little more weight to what folks think on here (because I do think people here try to evaluate things from a more reasonable perspective), but in general I don't worry myself too much with what the public thinks when they clearly demonstrate they don't understand all of the relevant issues.

As I said before, I have some other problems with how the officer handled the situation, but they are not so much about the use of force issue. And if anyone is wondering, I probably would have handled it differently myself, but I'm not sure that would have garnered any different response from the driver. He was pretty adamant about being in charge of the situation and not submitting to lawful authority.

Moebius: there was really no reason why the young man should think that he was being arrested.

I disagree. When a police officer says, "turn around and place your hand behind your back", courts have ruled time and time again that that is a clear indication that a person's liberty is being curtailed, that they are being arrested or detained. That is a clear indication (and reason) that a reasonable person should have realized they were not free to leave or walk off as this guy tried to do. I'm willing to entertain whatever else someone reasonably thinks it means when a police officer tells a person to "turn around and place your hands behind your back".

Moebius: The situation was so sudden in fact that he very well might not recognized the weapon as non-lethal, and he was obviously scared and had no idea what was going on.

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe he thought "I'm not going to allow this police officer to arrest me because if I get one more ticket I'll lose my license." The tape doesn't lend enough evidence to speculate for me. What the tape factually shows is that every instruction the officer gave the man was met with resistance, except when he told him to get out of the car. You may well be right that the driver thought he was getting out to look at the sign, but that was clearly dispelled when officer told him to place his hands behind his back.

[Edit - Clarified some ambigious quoting - RB]

Edited by RationalBiker
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As I said before, I have some other problems with how the officer handled the situation, but they are not so much about the use of force issue. And if anyone is wondering, I probably would have handled it differently myself, but I'm not sure that would have garnered any different response from the driver. He was pretty adamant about being in charge of the situation and not submitting to lawful authority.

Based on my viewing of the tape, I agree with you. As I said in a prior post, if the officer wasn't too clear at the beginning, he was quite clear at the point when he pulled the taser and repeated his order for the guy to put his hands behind his back. Still, no compliance. And I think I recall the guy saying "don't taze me" (don't really want to watch it again, but I guess I would if I had to). If so, then there was no legitimate fear that lethal force would be used.

I also don't see how he could reasonably think they were going to walk back to look at a traffic sign. Assuming it takes some time to get pulled over, they were probably very far from the sign in question. Would they really walk that whole way?

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Some of the problems I do have with this incident are as follows;

1) The officer should never have turned his back on the suspect when he told him to exit the vehicle. This is an officer safety issue that I see take place far too often among officers.

2) As soon as possible after "tasing" the guy, I would have tried to get him further away from the roadway and the passing motorists because it looks like the guy could have been laying partially in the lane (his head) though it's hard to tell cause you can't actually see him on the ground. In fact, the location where he decided to TASER the guy was questionable though somewhat out of his control based on the suspect's movements. If he had stunned the guy and the guy fell in the highway and got run over, we would be having an entirely different conversation. Location is a consideration taught in TASER training because it's a given that the person will fall.

3) Never, never, never arrest someone, handcuff them, and then walk off leaving them out of your control several yards away. That was REMARKABLY stupid on the part of the officer. It created a potentially dangerous situation for the suspect and to the officer.

4) As a minor issue, the officer was somewhat flippant when the second officer arrived on scene (as was the second officer) in joking about the TASER application.

5) Lastly, and this is clearly speculation on my part, the officer may be becoming (or already is) "taser dependent". This is something they discuss in training. The TASER, so far, appears to be so effective (either in it's use or as a deterence to resistance) that it is possible for some officers to want to pull it out too quickly. Note that this isn't so much because they think they are going to use it, but because they think it will (in itself) de-escalate the suspects resistance and they won't actually have to use it. If we exclude the idea that the officer perceived a threat by the suspect having his right hand in his pocket, which is possible, it could be argued that he was "quick on the draw". If we consider that he did perceive that as a threat, I would say it is less likely that he was too quick getting out the TASER. He did not verbalize for the man to take his hands out of his pocket, which I think I would have done. A factor to consider, which we don't have access to, is how often this officer deploys the TASER as a use of force option.

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As John Q. Citizen here, I think the officer's lack of clarity and confusing conduct needlessly escalated the situation.
There is a fundamental legal and educational issue that regards "clarity" by citizens and police. We have to start from the premise that ignorance of the law is no excuse, and retreat from that only when necessary. It is or has been a fact of our culture that we all know of our obligation to comply with legal police orders -- I don't watch "Cops" and "Arkansas' Most Wanted" at all regularly, but I've seen those kinds of shows enough to be willing to accept that perhaps because these shows thrive on the antics of people who resist, there is a growing belief that compliance with police orders is optional. Maybe it is necessary for police to inform ciizens more explicitly of their legal obligation to comply.

So let's write some law, then. I propose a standard statement to always be read at anyone getting restrained (arrested, professionally questioned, ticketed), a version of the Miranda card, which says "You have the legal obligation to comply with any instructions that I give you. If you do not comply, you will be arrested, by force if necessary". The only problem that I see with it (having carefully thought about it for two minutes) is that it might seem hostile, when 99% or people getting a speeding ticket do not need to be threatened with arrest for non-compliance. OTOH, if this card were read every time, then I think people would eventually get the idea that this is just something that the cops say and they aren't really threatening you, they're just notifying you that indeed you are required to comply with their instructions. Well, another problem that I just thought of is that if a cop is in hot pursuit and involved in a gun battle or fisticuffs with the perp, he might be distracted and fail to read the card. So then I imagine some murderer will get off because he wasn't properly informed of his obligation to comply.

There is an asymmetry in the clarity requirements revealed by Bustamonte where unclear apparent consent to a search is held to be consent, versus Bane v. State 587 N.E.2d 97, 103 where the guy makes a number of literally unclear attempts to request an attorney (e.g."well, [ I ] feel like I ought to have an attorney around") and the court held that that was not a request for counsel. (A really annoying decision, IMO). The general rule seems to be that citizens need to be more Bronston-style literal and explicit in their assertions of rights, and police are allowed to be more interpretive in grasping the suspect's verbal intent. I think there ought to be a clarity standard which can actually be applied by ordinary people, and it should be the same for police and suspects. The problem with demanding high a degree of Bronston-style literal clarity is that most people don't operate on that level (even the attorney questioning Bronston didn't). I don't really see what part of the officer's statements or conduct was unclear. Possibly, the first police mistake was tolerating the guy's initial refusal to provide license and registration, which invited the inference that the law would not be enforced, if only you argue about it long enough.

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The officer should never have turned his back on the suspect when he told him to exit the vehicle.

Yes, I noticed that too. It seems like he turned in order to put the ticket and other documents down on the police car--presumably in order to make both his hands free for doing the arrest. What would have been the proper way to handle that?

Never, never, never arrest someone, handcuff them, and then walk off leaving them out of your control several yards away. That was REMARKABLY stupid on the part of the officer. It created a potentially dangerous situation for the suspect and to the officer.

In what way is it dangerous?

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In what way is it dangerous?

Well, remember I said potentially dangerous. For the suspect, who is trying to get off the ground handcuffed near a busy roadway, the potential for getting up into or going further into the lane and getting struck by the car. Also for the suspect, should he decide to become combative now, the potential for injury to him is greater should he get into a physical altercation with the officer. People don't realize it, or sometimes don't agree with it, but handcuffs are for their safety in a way as well. Handcuffed people tend to be less likely to want to fight, but that is not assured. The less likely they are to fight, the less likely they or the officer will be injured.

For the officer, you now have a suspect you have arrested who may still not want to go to jail and he may take further actions against the officer like assault, retrieving a firearm from his waistband (as the officer did not appear to have search him yet), etc. etc. I say potentially because obviously not everyone has an intent to do the officer harm, but the officer has no way of knowing in every case WHICH people will do him harm in those circumstances. You don't place someone in custody and them leave them to move about freely. It is just a way poor officer safety practice in principle. You place handcuffs on a person to attempt to control them. It doesn't make sense to then relinguish control of them (even with cuffs on). Cuff 'em, search 'em, put 'em in a car.

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Be warned that some of these links may be disturbing to some people.

Here are a couple of examples of how "routine" traffic stops of "normal" people cause police officers to be, perhaps, overly cautious in dealing with resisting subjects.

Traffic stop of a http://youtube.com/watch?v=rgqrt67CP7U.

kinda long re-enactment video.

This guy was stopped for

There's more if anyone wants to search youtube to find them.

These are some of the reasons that it is important for an officer to establish control of the situation during the stop. These are things running in the back of their mind when they are pulling cars over and dealing with people who won't comply (or even are complying) with their instructions.

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