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Utah Tasering Incident Leads to $40,000 Settlement:
Back in December, I blogged about a traffic stop tasering in Utah and asked readers to vote on whether the officer's use of force was reasonable. The "taseree" in the case filed a civil suit, and today the New York Times's The Lede blog reports that the the state of Utah settled the case for $40,000. Thanks to Mark Eckenwiler for the link.
Smokey:
Taxpayers must unwillingly pay, and the perp in this case suffers absolutely no downside. Where's the justice?
3.11.2008 5:09pm
elscorcho (mail):
To all you who commented previously that he was being arrested and it was ok to taser him. Yes, I know it was settled and not proven in court, but still.

His civil case focused on the fact proven in the video — that the officer did not seek to arrest him before drawing and firing the Taser.
3.11.2008 5:13pm
OrinKerr:
El Scorcho,

Are you suggesting that the fact of the settlement shows that the plaintiff's legal arguments were correct? I would think that from the state's perspective, a mere $40,000 (including lawyer's fees) to make this high profile case go away now is quite a bargain.
3.11.2008 5:19pm
Per Son:
Apart from speeding, what law did the "perp" violate? Did Utah prosecute him for a crime? If he was not prosecuted, why should he suffer anything apart from being tazed in the first place.

As EV discussed there are two ways to look at this, an overzealous cop, or a cop concerned that this guy was a threat.
3.11.2008 5:20pm
Oren:
Taxpayers must unwillingly pay, and the perp in this case suffers absolutely no downside. Where's the justice?
One hopes that police departments are quick to put liability-prone officers on desk-duty.
3.11.2008 5:35pm
More importantly...:
The cop shoots him after he turns his back and as he is walking away from the cop, back towards his car.

No way would I have settled for $40k with that video reel to go with the jury back into the jury room.
3.11.2008 5:41pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
The "perp" in this case is the officer, per son.
3.11.2008 5:45pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
As I said before when this came out, this was bad all the way around, on both sides. The cop should have been able to defuse that situation long before then, without resorting to the Taser.

At the same time, the kid is a moron, and bears a large share of the responsibility himself. When the cop points a gun-like thing at you, you STOP and comply with his instructions. You don't turn your back and start to get back in your vehicle like you're going to drive away. You don't argue with the cop at the time you're getting a ticket. Don't think there was a speed-limit sign there? Take the ticket, then go back over your route with a camera AFTER the cop has left.

The kid was not aggressive, but he was acting stupidly and obnoxiously. The cop should have handled the situation much better to prevent the confrontation from getting to that point. But, at the point where the kid turns his back and walks away from the cop while the cop is pointing the Taser at him, there's not much left for the cop to do but assume he's a threat. He could be walking back to the car for a gun, or just to get in the car and try to run over the cop or anything. If you're irrational enough to turn your back on someone pointing a gun-like thing at you, you're irrational enough to do just about anything.
3.11.2008 5:46pm
CEB:

The "perp" in this case is the officer, per son.

If that were true, the guy would have gotten a hell of a lot more than $40k. I think the low settlement is evidence that the driver shared much of the blame.
3.11.2008 5:56pm
Sean Non-Volokh:
$40,000? Please tase me, bro!
3.11.2008 6:06pm
Cornellian (mail):
Taxpayers must unwillingly pay, and the perp in this case suffers absolutely no downside. Where's the justice?

In what way are the taxpayers unwilling? They elect the people who make these decisions. If taxpayers are "unwilling" to pay the settlement, presumably they'd also be "unwilling" to go to trial or to do anything else in relation to the lawsuit.
3.11.2008 6:19pm
Mike& (mail):
To all you who commented previously that he was being arrested and it was ok to taser him. Yes, I know it was settled and not proven in court, but still.


I know people who, on risk-management grounds, have pled guilty to crimes they didn't commit; and who have settled frivolous lawsuits against them.

Settling a lawsuit (and even pleading guilty to a crime) is relevant evidence, to be sure. But it sure as heck doesn't settle the issue.

Talk to some lawyers. Many will tell you they often feel like actuaries.
3.11.2008 6:25pm
alias:
$40,000? Please tase me, bro!

Me too.
3.11.2008 6:43pm
H Bowman, MD:
Too bad the taxpayers pay, instead of the cop.
3.11.2008 6:46pm
AF:
Are you suggesting that the fact of the settlement shows that the plaintiff's legal arguments were correct?

It shows the defendant considered them to be strong. There are no economic damages and presumably no significant medical expenses, and apparently little discovery had been conducted, so 40K is a good settlement for plaintiff even with attorney's fees. The Utah attorney general's office was defending it so the out-of-pocket defense fees would be minimal. The fact that they didn't even bother to move for summary judgment suggests they thought their odds of winning before trial were low.

Which is basically what defendant's counsel is quoted as saying:


''We think this is a legally defensible case because Trooper Gardner acted reasonably to avert a volatile and potentially dangerous confrontation on the side of a busy highway. We recognize, however, that this is a close case,'' Assistant Attorney General Scott Cheney said in a statement.
3.11.2008 6:50pm
Oren:
HB, the cop will eventually pay when he's relegated to desk duty.

Perhaps he should take some lessons from this guy*. In fact, can we send that guy around to every department in the country to demonstrate that one can be a professional even in the face of amazing asshattery by the public.

Pat, remember, the trooper has a duty to be professional and civil - the citizen does not.

*Note that at 0:11, right as the trooper walks up, the citizen tries to slap the ticket book out of the trooper's hand. That makes it perfectly legal for the cop to order him out of the car and arrest him. Note that, simply because he can do so, he instead choses to defuse the situation. Really, can we nominate this guy for cop of the year?
3.11.2008 7:03pm
eck:
Perhaps he should take some lessons from this guy*. [...] Note that ... he instead choses to defuse the situation. Really, can we nominate this guy for cop of the year?

Truly commendable police conduct, that.
3.11.2008 7:12pm
More importantly...:
at the point where the kid turns his back and walks away from the cop while the cop is pointing the Taser at him, there's not much left for the cop to do but assume he's a threat.


Yeah, because if someone retreats, they must be a threat. Could he be going for a weapon, or to run over the cop? Of course. But nothing in this context suggests this. Yet another example of cops thinking they're policing the streets of Baghdad; combat thinking applied to policing an otherwise free society leads to pathetic (or tragic) results.

And they say cops are more responsible than CCL holders. Ha!
3.11.2008 7:15pm
Wahoowa:
Mike&:

Wasn't that Larry Craig's explanation?
3.11.2008 7:19pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Too bad the taxpayers pay, instead of the cop.

Actually, that's a good thing, a very good thing. Regardless of your views of this specific case, the last thing we want is police officers worrying about the possibility of devastating personal liability while doing their jobs. Very few people would want to be police officer if the fact of being a police officer will lead them to have to pay tons of money on legal fees to defend even meritless lawsuits.
3.11.2008 7:37pm
D Palmer (mail):
More Importantly,

He may not be patroling Bagdad, but it's not 1960's Mayberry either. Cops get killed a traffic stops and not all of the perps look like Compton bangers.

You just don't walk away from a cop in the middle of a traffic stop, especially AFTER the weapon has been drawn. You comply and live to complain to the judge later.

The use of the Taser was premature and excessive, but the kid has to shoulder some of the blame. He should have shut his mouth, taken the ticket and fought it in court. He SHOULD NOT have turned his back and walked away in the middle of receiving the ticket like some ADHD five year old kid.
3.11.2008 7:45pm
Mike& (mail):
Mike&:

Wasn't that Larry Craig's explanation?



Huh?
3.11.2008 7:56pm
hattio1:
Oh,
This thread is going to get long, and repetitive. Just to weigh in, the cop was an ass-hat (so was the citizen, but he didn't taze anybody). The fact of a settlement is not evidence, but the fact it came before a motion for summary judgment was attempted says something (not much, but something). Needless to say, I think the cop was in the wrong.
3.11.2008 7:57pm
whit:
i got tased in training, and all i got was a sweet mpg file of me crying like nancy kerrigan!

where's my 40k!!!

of course, they got my consent to be tased on video before they tased me, but that was clearly coerced!!! :)
3.11.2008 8:01pm
BT:
whit, whats it feel like? give us the scoop.
3.11.2008 8:09pm
Oren:
Also, whit, will you second my nomination of "patient cop" for superintendent of all new police training?
3.11.2008 8:20pm
whit:
oren, lol. and ... no :)

BT, if you have ever received a small shock, it's similar but more intense.

i got the worst (most intense) taze which is one probe shot into my right shoulder, then a contact (completing the circuit) to my left calf. the greater the distance between the probes, the larger amount of muscle effected, and the more severe the taze.

it feels almost exactly what you think it would feel like, if you've ever been schocked , you know the basic feeling.

what is very disconcerting is the loss of control - simply put (assuming a decent distance between the probes) you just seize up.

it SUCKS, but i wouldn't really call it "painful", more like "extremely uncomfortable".

it is a VERY long 5 seconds, but the nice thing is that as soon as it's over - it's over. no residual effects - unlike pepper spray which leaves you in pain for 10-15 minutes of running nose, burning eyes, etc.

i must say that out of a class of about 20, only TWO of us volunteered.

friggin WUSSIES.

i have a lot of respect for it. i've carried it for about 2 years. have yet to tase anybody.

probably made a couple of hundred arrests in that period.
3.11.2008 8:26pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
No bargain for the Utahns: The guy popped right up again, still running his mouth. $40K should have covered being tased two or three times.
3.11.2008 8:32pm
Smokey:
Oren:

That cop in your link deserves a medal.
3.11.2008 8:51pm
BT:
Whit, thanks. It doesn't sound like a whole lotta fun.
3.11.2008 9:26pm
Fub:
whit wrote at 3.11.2008 7:26pm:
BT, if you have ever received a small shock, it's similar but more intense.

i got the worst (most intense) taze which is one probe shot into my right shoulder, then a contact (completing the circuit) to my left calf. the greater the distance between the probes, the larger amount of muscle effected, and the more severe the taze.
IANADoc. But I think that means a possible or even likely current path was through your Vega nerve and heart. Fibrillation can be caused by current along that path, which can make you dead very quickly.

Since you're still here, it obviously didn't. But I wouldn't volunteer to be a conductor for AC along a right shoulder to leftward and downward path.
3.11.2008 10:42pm
Gaius Marius:
The cop should be sent to Baghdad where he can taser all the Jihadists.
3.12.2008 1:00am
Oren:
Fub, the current is too low amperage to cause fibrillation. Remember, volts hurt - amps kill.
3.12.2008 1:42pm
Loren (mail):
Oren:

But Tasers can and do kill.


3.12.2008 2:09pm
Loren (mail):
The link function didn't work:

http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/01/30/taser-study.html
3.12.2008 2:10pm
gimpyknee (mail):
Too bad "patient cop" was later fired for staging the whole incident. The first part of the stop he deliberately provoked the motorist, so that on his re-approach he'd look so smooth, calm, and collected. The whole video was staged, and it did cost him his job after the investigation.
3.12.2008 2:44pm
Oren:
Gimpyknee, what are you talking about?

Loren, not nearly as often as choke-holds, which are the equivalent form of force.
3.12.2008 3:46pm
Fub:
Oren wrote at 3.12.2008 12:42pm:
Fub, the current is too low amperage to cause fibrillation. Remember, volts hurt - amps kill.
Thanks for the taser current info. I had (and still haven't) any idea what typical taser current is, or the minimum current to induce fibrillation. But I'll take your word that taser current is too low, since whit's experiment didn't.

I would also hazard the guess that unless total taser current through the contact node is below the minimum for inducing fibrillation with a direct path through the proper nerve, then there would be some risk of fibrillation on the off chance that the current happens to follow a very constricted path (ie: not a broadly distributed path among surrounding tissues).
3.12.2008 4:02pm
kiniyakki (mail):
This shows why a civil suit against an officer would be much more effective than the exclusionary rule to deter police from violating a person's rights. The prospect of something happening to him (either civil liability, or any administrative punishment that is bound to follow the gov't paying a settlement) would be a much larger deterent to police misconduct then the relatively painfree prospect of a person going free b/c evidence is excluded. Also, society would win, b/c the guilty wouldn't get a free pass and a civil remedy would hold the police accountable.
3.13.2008 1:54am
markm (mail):
The video looked like an encounter between two a**holes to me - but only the cop had the legal duty to act reasonably and politely. He is therefore at fault, although I'd be very tempted to assess the damages at $1,000, fault at 51%/49%, giving an award of $20. But when you add in the plaintiff's legal fees and costs, $40K might not even cover it.
3.13.2008 6:06pm