Even though he didn’t have a shirt on, 21-year-old Carl Bryan was wearing his emotions on his sleeve when he encountered a Coronado police officer back in 2005.
And no wonder. His “California Sunday was off to a bad start,” as a federal appeals court put it in a ruling issued today.
There was the matter of the missing keys, which somehow wandered off with his cousin’s girlfriend. His rushed departure from a Ventura County home, wearing a pair of boxer shorts. And the drive from Los Angeles, during which he got a speeding ticket and became so upset that he “began crying and moping, ultimately removing his t-shirt to wipe his face.”
By the time he reached Coronado at about 7:30 a.m. on the way to his parents’ house, Bryan was clad only in boxer shorts and tennis shoes. Then came another encounter with law enforcement, courtesy of a Coronado cop who pulled over Bryan as part of a seat-belt check.
What happened next is in some dispute, although a couple things are clear. As the court puts it, “Bryan was agitated, standing outside his car, yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs.” The cop then shot Bryan with a Taser device from 20-25 feet away, sending him face first into the asphalt and breaking four of his teeth.
Now, the 2005 tasing incident has been resurrected in a court ruling that appears to limit when police officers can legally fire a Taser at someone. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — which covers several Western states — said the cop’s actions were “excessive” and violated Bryan’s constitutional rights.
“The court is saying before you zap somebody, think of what you’re doing,” said Eugene G. Iredale, an attorney for Bryan. The ruling “sets forth a definitive standard and places in the Tasers in the continuum of force, less serious than a gun but more serious than a billy club or the pepper spray that they use.”
Tasers temporarily disable people by sending electric shocks through their bodies. The shocks are extremely painful and can lead to injury and death, although the appeals court refers to them as “non-lethal” weapons.
Iredale said the case appears to now be the leading one in the nation regarding the proper use of Tasers by law enforcement. The ruling and the precedent it sets could have an effect locally, where Tasers are commonly used; the North County Times reported that sheriff’s deputies resorted to the devices 139-168 times each year between 2006 and 2008. (The numbers don’t count the use of Tasers in jails.)
Attorneys for the police officer, Brian McPherson, weren’t immediately available for comment today. The appeals court ruling means that he will face a trial in Bryan’s civil suit and cannot argue that he should be immune from legal action.
According to Iredale, McPherson no longer works for the Coronado Police Department. The department, however, will have to pay any settlement, Iredale said.
Bryan, the tasering victim, finished his education, Iredale said. (He was hospitalized and arrested after the 2005 incident; charges of resisting an officer were later dropped after a jury reached a hung verdict.)
A cousin of the Bryan twins, a leading tennis doubles team, he’s now working as a tennis instructor in Europe, he said.
Iredale added: “He’s doing much better. And he’s doing it with four new teeth replacing those that were broken out.”
To read the judges’ colorful account of what happened on that bad California Sunday, check out Shaun Martin’s blog.
— RANDY DOTINGA