Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Sunday, February 8, 2009

ACLU, Masinter, Challenge Tasers in Supreme Court

MIAMI – In a petition submitted to the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida asked the nine Supreme Court Justices to rule that a law enforcement officer’s excessive use of force with a Taser is unconstitutional.

The case offers the Supreme Court its first opportunity to address Taser abuse in an incident captured by a videocamera 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 arrestee to make him stand up. Buckley’s lawyer, James V. Cook of Tallahassee, Florida, posted the video on YouTube at the suggestion of the dissenting member of the Eleventh Circuit panel, Judge Beverly Martin.

You can view the video of Jesse Buckley being actively tased by Deputy Rackard at:

Cook has complained that the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling licenses police officers to use Tasers as cattle prods to inflict gratuitous pain on a nonviolent handcuffed arrestee, simply to herd him towards a police car.

"The repeated and excruciatingly painful application of 50,000 volts of electricity was once the exclusive province of the agents and implements of torture, and cannot be condoned in a civilized society,” said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director.

Although Mr. Buckley never once actively resisted arrest nor attempted to flee, the officer continued to tase him solely to cause pain. The federal district court held that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity, but by a split decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed that opinion.

“It takes us back several decades to a time when some law enforcement agencies gave officers permission to use old-fashioned electric cattle prods, along with dogs and fire hoses, to control people who were not being violent," said his lawyer, James Cook. But when you create a world where waterboarding and torture becomes the official policy of a Presidential administration, how much easier it is to justify a few volts here or there.

A PDF of the petition can be downloaded at:

The ACLU of Florida filed the petition in the U.S Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Counsel for Jesse Daniel Buckley is Michael R. Masinter, ACLU Board Member and Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center; James V. Cook; Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director; and Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director. Good luck, guys.

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