In Hollinsworth v. City of St. Ann, et al., the Plaintiff was arrested for stealing. She was tased by officers after she refused their requests to change into an orange jumpsuit. Later she brought an excessive force claim against the City of St. Ann and officers alleging that the force used under the circumstances was unreasonable and amounted to excessive force under the United States Consitution.
There are cases in Missouri and around the country raising questions about when it is appropriate to use a taser on a suspect, a detainee or a prisoner. Each case turns on specific facts such as the age of the individual that is tased, the circumstances of the situation, whether an arrest is made, whether the suspect has a weapon, and the demeanor of the suspect or prisoner, and whether that person is resisting arrest or not. In most of these cases, the court first has to evaluate the potential liability of the officers and City or County that is sued when current immunity laws are applied. In general if the officers are granted qualified immunity they are not liable for constitutional deprevations. However, if theire conduct rises to a deliberate indifference to the rights of the person, they can be liable for their conduct. A court often examines in written briefs, before trial, the injuries incurred by the individual in determining whether there is an injury and issue that is appropriate for a jury trial.
In Hollinsworth, the court granted the officers and the City immunity from liability and ruled that the Plaintiff had not shown that use of a taser when only minimal injuries occurred is unreasonable force. Therefore, the Plaintiff appealed the judgement against it and the United States Court of Appeals affimed the judgment in the favor of the police officers and the City of St. Ann.
If more significant injuries had occurred such as a cardiac condition, or other physical injuries, the result may have been different, but in this case the injuries were not found to rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
Note: This office did not handle the Holllinsworth case but has handled excessive force cases in the past. Author: Phillip A. Tatlow