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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > July 2014 > Proper Protocol (Excessive Force): Shreve v. Franklin County

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Proper Protocol (Excessive Force): Shreve v. Franklin County

Question: Is using a Taser on an inmate who suffered a seizure and refused to comply with orders to be cuffed excessive force?                      
Quick Answer: Not if the facts surrounding the Taser use show that the inmate resisted assistance and created a legitimate safety concern for the officers.

Shreve v. Franklin County, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Southern District of Ohio, Feb. 6, 2014
Facts: Michael Reed, an inmate, suffered a seizure in his cell. Franklin County sheriff’s deputies entered the cell to find Reed on the floor with his hands above his head and a cut above his eye. Reed was told to put his hands behind him, and deputies explained they were cuffing him for safety so he could be taken to the hospital. He placed one hand down and was cuffed. However, as deputies attempted to get the other hand, Reed pulled his hand away and held it across his chest. Reed continued to refuse being handcuffed and was told he was going to be tasered if he didn’t cooperate. He did not comply, and the deputies tasered him. He was told not to fight anymore. Reed reached toward one of the deputies and answered “OK.” Deputies told Reed eight more times to put his hands behind him, but Reed continued to reach out, saying “please, please, please.” Two more deputies attempted to gain control of Reed without success. He was told that the deputy would use the Taser again if he did not stop resisting. Reed did not comply and was tasered a second time. Eventually, deputies got Reed handcuffed and transported to the hospital. The entire incident was captured on video. Reed claimed the deputies used excessive force by using the Taser on him twice.
Importance: Excessive force cases are largely fact-based claims, requiring the court to examine your decision to use force to determine whether you are acting with “deliberate indifference” to the person you are using force against. In this case, the deputies were forced to taser Reed in order to secure him for medical transport. Reed created the circumstances that led to him being tasered, and so the court — looking at all the surrounding circumstances — determined that using a Taser was not excessive force. Remember, the more confident you are in your decision and the more able you are to list specific facts to support the decision, the easier your time on the witness stand. Although the standard is not supposed to be a 20/20 hindsight review of the facts, that won’t stop a defense attorney from grilling you about every detail.
Keep in Mind: Qualified immunity is a defense commonly used by law enforcement in excessive force cases. When you are sued civilly for conduct associated with your job as a public official, you may be entitled to qualified immunity. That means you cannot be sued. The person suing must prove you are not entitled to the immunity. They must show you violated a clearly established statutory or constitutional right and that any reasonable officer standing in your shoes would have known the conduct was a violation. In determining qualified immunity, courts examine all of the facts and what you know legally. For example, if a court in your jurisdiction decided shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect was a constitutional violation and the next week you shoot a fleeing unarmed suspect, the court may find you are not entitled to immunity because you should have been aware of the case.