Monday, April 13, 2015

Officers Used Excessive Force by Tasering Ill Patient

Aldaba v. Pickens, 2015 Wl 451227 (2/4/15) (Okl.) (Published) - An excessive-force decision in favor of a ยง1983 civil rights plaintiff. The 10th found the evidence in the light most favorable to the estate was sufficient to prove an excessive force violation that was clearly established. Mr. Lejia went to the hospital due to his pneumonia. After awhile at the hospital, his pneumonia caused low oxygen levels which affected his brain. Soon he became aggressive. He disconnected his oxygen and declared himself Superman and God. He refused medication to make him calm. He began walking down the hall. Medical personnel told arriving officers that Mr. Lejia could die if he left the hospital. The officers told him to get on his knees or they would taser him, but he didn't cooperate. An officer fired a taser that hit Mr. Lejia's torso. A struggle ensued. The officers thrust him face-first against a wall. Another taser, this time to the back of the shoulder. An officer tripped Mr. Lejia and they all fell to the floor with Mr. Lejia landing face-down. This allowed a nurse to inject Haldol and Ativan. But Mr. Lejia went limp, grunted, vomited and died.

In this kind of circumstance an additional governmental; interest comes into play: keeping a mentally disturbed person from harming himself. But with that interest comes extra responsibility. The governmental interest in using force is diminished by the fact that the person has committed no crime and poses only a threat to himself. Where officers know, as in this case, that the person has special characteristics making him more susceptible to harm from a particular use of force, officers should be especially sensitive to the likelihood of harm from use of force. In this case, the officers should have made a greater effort to take control with less intrusive means. The situation "called for conflict resolution and de-escalation, not confrontation and tasers." Importantly, the 10th thought the evidence could support the notion that Mr. Lejia only passively resisted.

Judge Phillips dissented, believing that, even in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Mr. Lejia was actively resisting. The judge could not figure out what the officers should have done instead of what they did; conflict resolution and de-escalation didn't seem to be an option.