Supreme Court May Decide Florida Taser Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has never heard a case on excessive use of force with Tasers by police officers. That may change soon...

In February, the ACLU of Florida filed a certiorari petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that a law enforcement officer's excessive use of force with a Taser is unconstitutional. The Taser abuse incident was captured by a video camera mounted on the patrol car dashboard of the Washington County, Florida Sheriff's Deputy, Jonathan Rackard.

Deputy Rackard administered three five-second-long 50,000 volt discharges of a Taser to Jesse Buckley with the Taser in "drive-stun" mode, which means that the device was pressed directly against the skin instead of from a distance. The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the deputy's actions violate the Fourth Amendment, since his only purpose was to inflict pain upon an already-handcuffed nonviolent nonresisting arrestee to make him stand up.

Buckley's lawyers, James V. Cook of Tallahassee and Michael Masinter of Miami, posted the appalling video on YouTube and after a recent New York Times article highlighting the case, views of the video jumped significantly. Unfortunately, the video has since been removed from YouTube. The Supreme Court ordered Rackard to reply to the ACLU's petition, and the nine justices will soon decide whether to take this first-of-its-kind case.

Mr. Buckley was arrested on March 17, 2004, after refusing to sign a traffic citation during a routine traffic stop. He was handcuffed and voluntarily exited his vehicle, obviously in emotional distress, then fell to the ground. The arresting officer was under no apparent threat, as documented by the police car-mounted camera, yet "tased" Mr. Buckley three separate times. Each tase lasted five seconds, leaving 16 burn marks on his skin, some severe enough to produce keloid scars. Although Mr. Buckley never once actively resisted arrest nor attempted to flee, the officer continued to tase him.

The federal district court held that the officer violated the fourth amendment, and that he was not entitled to qualified immunity, but by a split decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed that opinion, held that the first two tasings were a constitutionally reasonable use of force, and that no clearly established law would have warned Rackard that the third was constitutionally unreasonable. The 11th Circuit denied rehearing the case before the entire Circuit Court of Appeals, and upon denial the ACLU petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. Other federal courts of appeal have squarely held that police officers may not inflict pain through the use of tasers or chemical sprays to compel a nonviolent individual who is not actively resisting arrest to obey police commands.

The ACLU of Florida and James Cook are confident that the Justices will recognize the egregious harm to Mr. Buckley and the insult to the Fourth Amendment, and are encouraged that the Court ordered a response to our petition.