Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Taser Case

By Teresa Anderson

The incident in Mattos occurred in 2006. Maui police officers arrived at the Mattos’s home in response to a domestic dispute call from Jayzel Mattos. Her husband, Troy Mattos, was outside the home when the officers arrived. Troy, who was over six feet tall and more than 200 pounds, indicated that he had argued with his wife but that the issue had been resolved. Officers asked Troy if they could speak with Jayzel. Troy went inside to get her.

One of the officers followed Troy into the house. When Troy noticed that the officer had entered, he became angry and asked the officer to leave. Meanwhile, another officer entered the house, found Jayzel and asked to speak to her outside. The officers confronted Troy and Jayzel in the living room. After a heated discussion, an officer moved to arrest Troy and accidentally collided with Jayzel. As Jayzel moved her arm in front of her to stop the officer from running into her, the officer became agitated. The officer asked Jayzel “Are you touching an officer?”

Jayzel asked the officers why Troy was being arrested and repeatedly requested that everyone be quiet because her children were sleeping in the next room. Then, without warning, one of the officers discharged his Taser at Jayzel. Both Troy and Jayzel were arrested and charged with harassment, resisting arrest, and obstructing government operations. All of the charges were eventually dropped.

The couple sued the officers for violation of their constitutional rights, including their Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable force. The officers requested summary judgment—a hearing based on the facts of a case, without a trial. A district court refused to grant the summary judgment, finding that a trial was required to determine whether the use of the Taser was constitutionally reasonable.

In both cases, the appeals courts determined that the officers used unreasonable force in discharging their Tasers. In Brooks, the court found that Brooks’s offenses were minor and that she posed no immediate threat to the safety of the officers. Yet, the officers tased the pregnant Brooks three times in less than a minute. In Mattos, the court noted that the officers determined that the tasing was unreasonable given that it was used against “the nonthreatening victim of a domestic dispute whom they had come to protect.”

However, the court found that, at the time of each incident, the case that would establish tasing as unreasonable in certain circumstances (Bryan v. MacPherson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 2010) had not been decided. Therefore, according to the court, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity because they did not know that their actions were unreasonable. The court wrote that “not every reasonable officer at the time of the respective incidents would have known—beyond debate—that such conduct violates the Fourth Amendment.”

photo by USFWS-Southeast/flickr



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