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Police Officer Could Be Liable for Taser Personal Injury

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Coronado, CAIn Coronado, California, a man who was Tasered while stopped for an alleged traffic violation has successfully sued for damages. If the decision is allowed to stand, it could serve as an important legal precedent in determining when police officers are allowed to use the Taser weapons.

In 2005 a police officer in California pulled over a vehicle, noting that the driver wasn't wearing a seat belt. The driver, Carl Bryan, testified in court that he failed to hear the officer order him to remain in the car and instead exited the vehicle about 20 feet away from the officer. Bryan admitted that he was visibly angry with himself over the incident but did not issue any verbal threats against the officer.

The officer, Brian McPherson, testified that he fired his Taser at Bryan when he took a step toward him, an allegation the plaintiff has denied.

The force of the Taser caused Bryan to fall hard to the ground, slamming his face into the pavement and smashing four front teeth.

According to the December 30 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the former police officer can be held liable for the injuries suffered by the plaintiff as the result of the Taser incident.

Based on the plaintiff's testimony, a three-judge panel was unanimous in finding that McPherson used excessive force in firing the Taser, since Bryan did not appear to pose any immediate threat. While the appellate court did not rule on whether McPherson acted appropriately, the way was cleared for Bryan to pursue a civil case against the officer and the city of Coronado in a lower court.

There has been a lot of controversy over the Taser as more police forces have adopted it as their weapon of choice. A National Institute of Justice study found in 2008 that the Taser was employed safely in the vast majority of cases, but concluded that more research was needed to determine its impact on the health of small children and the elderly, among others.

Michael Gennaco, an expert in police conduct, has served as an internal Taser reviewer for the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department and other agencies. "This decision talks about the need for an immediate threat. Some departments allow Tasers in cases of passive resistance, such as protesters who won't move," he told the LA Times. Tasering for "passive resistance is out the door now with this decision. Even resistance by tensing or bracing may not qualify."

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