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‘Dead to rights’ in stunning decision

‘Dead to rights’ in stunning decision

The US Fourth Circuit Court’s fence-sitting ruling on stun gun use is in hope that it and other courts won’t have to sit on the fence next time.

‘Dead to rights’ in stunning decision

logo Mental health A mentally ill man, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, had stopped taking his medicine and was poking holes in his leg to “let the air out”.

His sister, Jinia Armstrong Lopez, tried admitting him to hospital: he fled, and a doctor prepared involuntary commitment papers and asked the police to make sure he didn’t hurt himself.

With the commitment papers just signed, Ronald Armstrong was dead, after police hit him with stun gun discharges five times and forcefully restrained him.

The US Fourth Circuit Court said the police treatment violated Armstrong’s constitutional rights, but not enough for the officers to be punished by the court, as they have qualified immunity – public officials can’t be sued unless they violate somebody’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights,

In a tightrope-walking judgment reported by Chris Coble on FindLaw, the court said the officers “were treading close to the constitutional line,” holding that they “did not have sufficiently clear guidance to forfeit qualified immunity” because the law regarding the use of (stun guns) was still evolving.

The court hoped the decision would help clarify boundaries around such use of force, ruling that, in the USA, a (stun gun) “may only be deployed when a police officer is confronted with an exigency that creates an immediate safety risk and that is reasonably likely to be cured by using the (stun gun)“.

“The degree of force necessary to prevent an individual who is affirmatively refusing to move from fleeing is obviously quite limited,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote. “Immediately (stunning) a non-criminal, mentally ill individual, who seconds before had been conversational, was not a proportional response.”

The court singled out one officer’s use of the stun gun to get Armstrong to the hospital: “When Officer Gatling deployed his (stun gun), Armstrong was a mentally ill man being seized for his own protection, was seated on the ground, was hugging a post to ensure his immobility, was surrounded by three police officers and two hospital security guards, and had failed to submit to a lawful seizure for only 30 seconds. A reasonable officer would have perceived a static stalemate with few, if any, exigencies – not an immediate danger so severe that the officer must beget the exact harm the seizure was intended to avoid.”

– FindLaw ‘Decided’, noteworthy decisions and settlements blog, 15 Jan 2016: …precised by Bill Rowlings, CEO, Civil Liberties Australia


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