The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered another hearing on a claim that Jacksonville police used excessive force against Charles Jackson, who was unhappy with a local tire business.
In 2013, police were called to Vaughn Tire, where Jackson was complaining angrily that the business had damaged a wheel lug on his dump truck. Police said they tased Jackson to subdue him when he advanced on officers after not following their urging to calm down.
Judge Susan Webber Wright gave the city of Jacksonville and Officer Billy D. Stair III a summary judgment in the case. The 8th Circuit had remanded a portion of the case before, but granted a rehearing to clarify its position on use of excessive force.
Jackson was tased three times. The Court said the action was reasonable in the first use given Jackson’s behavior, which the officer perceived as a threat. But it ordered a further hearing on the second tasing of Jackson.
The second tasing is a different story. When the electric probes from the first tasing struck Jackson, he immediately fell to the ground. Before Jackson could respond, and without warning, Officer Stair again deployed his Taser. At the time of this second tasing, Jackson did not appear to pose a threat to law enforcement, resist arrest, or flee – he was on his back, writhing on the ground. Based on the Taser-mounted video, Jackson did not have time to react with compliance or continued resistance before the second tasing was deployed. His physical body was still reeling from the initial tasing. Officer Stair argued that he perceived Jackson to kick his legs out and turn his body as if to confront the officers again. The video footage, however, refutes this statement. The video clearly shows that Jackson was several feet away from the nearest officer, unable to pose a threat from his position on the ground.
The court concluded there was a dispute to be decided as to whether Jackson was resisting, though it continued to free the city from responsibility.
The court expressed some doubts, but still upheld the third tasing.
The third tasing occurred after Officer Stair gave several clear orders for Jackson to stop moving and lay down on his stomach, or he would be tased.
Afterward, Jackson moved in the direction of Officer Stair, and he rose to his knee in an apparent attempt to get off the ground. Officer Stair then deployed his Taser for the third and final time before Jackson complied with his demands and was arrested.
While we are skeptical whether Jackson was physically capable of posing a danger to law enforcement at that very instance, a reasonable officer in Officer Stair’s position could have perceived Jackson to be resisting arrest and could have feared for his safety. Based on our review of the record, we conclude the third tasing was objectively reasonable.
The appeals court sent the case back to district court for a finding of whether the second tasing was reasonable and the officer was thus entitled to qualified immunity for acting in his official capacity.
The decision was 2-1. Judge Roger Wollman dissented on sending the case back. He wrote: “When viewed in light of his earlier manifestation of unceasing, rage-filled verbal and physical conduct, Jackson’s momentary post-tasered position on the ground does not justify considering it as a clearly punctuated interim of compliance with Officer Stair’s earlier commands, and thus the second tasing was not objectively