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Entries in Excessive Force (3)

Tuesday
Aug212012

Florida Police Officer Slams Woman into Car, Goes to Jail

Thinkstock/Getty Images(PENSACOLA, Fla.) -- A veteran cop was fired and charged with criminal battery after officers reviewed a video of him slamming a woman into her car in Pensacola, Fla.

"We have certain expectations of our police officers, and when I looked at the video, I was disappointed because I felt like that didn't stand up to those expectations," Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons told ABC News. "We determined that what we saw on the video was inconsistent with what our policies allow and what state statute allows."

Dash cam footage from Aug. 2 shows Officer Christopher Geraci telling Abbi Bonds to get back in her car before he grabs her left arm and swings her body into the side of the car, causing her to fall to her knees and bang her chin against the vehicle.

"I'm not fighting you," Bonds, 29, is heard saying as he cuffs her. "Why are you hitting me?"

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Geraci had been responding to a hit-and-run, and a witness identified Bonds as a driver who struck two vehicles with her white Chevrolet before driving away, according to the police report. When Geraci found Bonds, her car was disabled and had red and grey paint on it that matched the other two cars she allegedly hit, according to the report.

"When I made contact with Bonds, she immediately began stating that someone took her car and she was chasing it down the road on foot," Geraci wrote in the report.

He added that he could smell alcohol on her breath, had watery eyes and slurred speech. After the alleged slamming incident, Bonds submitted to field sobriety tests and performed poorly, according to police reports. Geraci arrested her and took her to Escambia County Jail. She also told him, "I was trying to crank the car when I found it."

She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, failure to yield, no proof of insurance and driving under the influence.

Complying with department policy, Geraci, 33, filled out a use of force report for the incident. Geraci's supervisor reviewed the dash cam footage to comply with protocol, and officials made their decision about his employment. Bonds did not call in a complaint to the department.

Geraci, who could not be reached for comment, was fired last Friday and charged with battery. He was taken to Escambia County Jail, but was later released on his own recognizance, records show. He does not yet have an arraignment date.

Bonds, who was arrested on Aug. 2, said injuries from her encounter with Geraci include a swollen knee and jaw pain. She said doctors think she may have suffered a concussion as well.

She admitted that she was on the phone when Geraci told her to get back in the car, but said he didn't listen to her when she told him someone had stolen her car.

"He just totally lost control as a police officer and beat the crap out of me using way beyond excessive force to a female," Bonds said.

Bonds had been on parole, she said. Records show she was charged with four felonies for possession of a controlled substance without a prescription in 2010.

Geraci had been a Pensacola police officer since 2004 and was a member of the K-9 unit.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May222012

Taser Pain May Be Considered by Supreme Court as Excessive Force

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Seattle police officers say they chose one of the safest tools in their arsenal when they used a Taser gun against a pregnant woman resisting arrest.

Before using the device one officer asked, "Well where do you want to do it?" according to court papers. Another counseled, "Well, don't do it in her stomach, do it in her thigh."

The woman, who was 60 days from her due date, was tased three times in less than a minute.

A lawyer for the woman says the officers used excessive force.

"The officers put thousands of volts of electricity through my client causing her tremendous pain," says Michael F. Williams of Kirkland and Ellis. "The concept that officers can cause tremendous pain on a suspect over a trivial offense is completely alien to our Constitution."

On Thursday, the Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors and discuss whether to take up the issue.

The case stems from a 2004 traffic stop. Malaika Brooks was pulled over by Officer Juan Ornelas, who informed her that she was going 32 miles per hour in a 20-mile-per-hour school zone. He issued a speeding violation.

Court papers describe the following scenario:

Brooks denied that she had been speeding and said she would not sign the citation because she believed that her signature would amount to an admission of guilt. Ornelas told her that she was mistaken, but that her failure to sign would subject her to arrest under state law. She continued to refuse to sign. Eventually two other officers came to the scene, Brooks was told she was under arrest, and she was ordered out of the car. Again, she refused to get out of the car.

"I have to go to the bathroom, I am pregnant, I'm less than 60 days from having my baby," she told the officers. The officers told her if she did not obey orders, she would be subject to the Taser device. They then conferred about using the Taser on a pregnant woman.

In court papers the officers say they knew from training and experience that the use of the Taser in drive-stun mode (where a charge is delivered through two blunt contact probes) would provide localized pain without risk of lasting physical injury and that it would have no adverse effect on a pregnant woman.

Eventually Officer Ornelas opened the driver's side door, and twisted Brooks' arm up behind her back. Officer Donald Jones applied the Taser to Brooks' left thigh, at which point she shouted and honked the horn, but continued to refuse to get out. Thirty-six seconds later he applied it to her left arm, and six seconds later he applied it to her neck.

Finally, the officers managed to drag her out and handcuff her. She was seen by a doctor before she was taken to King County Jail. Brooks was eventually convicted for failing to sign a speeding ticket.

Her healthy baby girl was born in January 2005.

She sued the police officers for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable search and seizure.

Last year a federal appeals court sided with Brooks in ruling that her claims constituted a constitutional violation.

Although the court found a constitutional violation on the facts presented to it, it ruled that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity from Brooks' constitutional claim because the law was "not sufficiently clear at the time of the incident."

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski disagreed strongly with the majority's conclusion that the use of the Taser gun qualified as excessive force.

"Bull Pucky!" Kozinski wrote in his 2011 partial dissent. He pointed out that Brooks had been resisting arrest and that the officers had chosen the safest tool in their arsenal to deal with the woman's defiance.

He chastised the majority for counting the seconds between tasings and finding that the rapid succession provided no time for her to recover. "Although Brooks claims she was 'scared' and 'in shock" after the initial tasing, she also admits that she began yelling for help and honking her horn with a "deliberate decision to continue her defiance," Kozinski wrote.

Both Brooks and the officers have appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Brooks wants the court to find that the officers should not be immune from her suit, and the officers want the justices to overrule the lower court on the constitutional violation.

The officers say they need guidance from the Supreme Court. In court papers their lawyers write that the appeals court "abolished application of a useful pain compliance technique without describing why the technique was unreasonable and without evaluating or even discussing alternatives that the officers could have used to reasonably effect their lawful duties."

Each side cites a 1989 Supreme Court decision regarding the use of excessive force that said such cases should be analyzed using an "objective reasonableness standard." The court held that "the 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."

But experts think the court might be reluctant to take up the Taser case.

"This case looks very dramatic on its facts," says Robert Weisberg of Stanford Law School. "But that doesn't mean it's a very good case for the court to take." Weisberg notes that both parties have filed petitions asking for the court to step in and that there is no decision below imposing damages.

"The Supreme Court might say, 'This is procedurally too weird a situation to be the right vehicle for us to say something about Tasers,'" Weisberg says. "I think the court is likely to view Tasers as a legitimate means of inflicting non-lethal force. If so, it may find it impractical to declare a constitutional rule about when Taser use is okay and when it isn't because the legitimacy of Taser use may just depend on the situation. If so, the court's view might be, 'we don't want to treat Tasers differently from other non lethal means of force' therefore it's not desirable to have a rule for Tasers. The rules governing Tasers will be the general rules governing excessive force and therefore we don't want to make a constitutional doctrine out of Tasers."

He says in general that lower courts have tended to defer to police on the use of Tasers, but there have been a few cases where a person has won a lawsuit against police, where the Taser use was arguably unnecessary and where it happened to inflict serious harm.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Oct052010

Yale University Questions Police Force During Club Raid

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- New Haven Police Department officers are accused of using excessive force during a raid of a Yale University party where cops allegedly brandishing semi-automatic weapons tasered a student before arresting several others.

Jordan Jefferson, the student who was tasered, had to be hospitalized following the incident. A total of five students were arrested during the raid.

According to Yale University, several students have reported "serious concerns" about the behavior of the officers who showed up at Elevate Lounge during the early morning hours of Oct. 2.

Police entered the club, which was being rented out by two colleges at Yale for a private dance party, to do a "compliance check," according to Joe Avery, public information officer for NHPD.

Avery said there were 256 people in the club, 100 more than permitted by the fire marshal. The officers began to "defuse the chaotic situation and safety hazards in Elevate."

The NHPD argues the scene inside Elevate "created serious safety hazards" and the fact that it was "58 percent over legal occupancy" was an "egregious violation." Officials also note "other violations," such as underage drinking and allowing patrons of all ages inside the club.

A Yale University spokesman said those who were not 21 and were not allowed to legally drink were not given a bracelet that would allow them to be served at the bar, and were not permitted to drink inside the establishment.

According to the statement, Jefferson hit a police officer when he was being arrested and "had to be tased to be brought under control."

As for the pending investigation, the police department said, "The City of New Haven and the NHPD does not tolerate unprofessional or improper behavior by any officer, and will investigate fully any complaint or reasonable suspicion of that kind of behavior."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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