Skip to main content

Smart use of smart weapons: jail officer liability for the inappropriate use of tasers and stun guns on pretrial detainees

Abstract

The US Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015) ruled that the use of a taser on a pretrial detainee for not following verbal commands, when the subject was not posing a threat to the security and order of the jail, was objectively unreasonable, unrelated to legitimate penological needs, and that the subjective intent of the officer was not to be taken into consideration. This is a major development in prison law as the US Supreme Court specifically addresses the issue of excessive use of force on pretrial detainees, who are distinct from prison inmates. Here, the objective reasonableness standard used in Graham v. Connor (1989) for excessive use of force by the police was applied to pretrial detainees instead of the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause, thus clearly distinguishing pretrial detainees from those already convicted of crimes. Besides this decision, this paper looks at 10 Federal Circuit Court and US District Court cases involving the use of tasers and stun guns by jail officials on pretrial detainees and concludes that more emphasis on the use-of-force continuum or model, during jail officer training would go a long way in guiding in the appropriate use of tasers and stun guns, an intermediate and not an insignificant level of force, in keeping with the US Supreme Court ruling in Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015).

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Alpert, G. P., M.R. Smith, R.J. Kaminski, L.A. Fridell, J. MacDonald, and B. Kubu. 2011. Police use of force, tasers and other less-lethal weapons. Washington D.C.: National Institute of Justice. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/232215.pdf. Accessed 26 January 2017.

  • Barua, V., and R.M. Worley. 2009. Jailhouse shock: An examination of legal issues involving the use of tasers and stun guns on pretrial detainees. Corrections Compendium 34 (2): 9–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell v. Wolfish. 1979. 441 U.S. 520.

  • Brown v. Cwynar. 2012. 484 Fed. Appx. 676 (3d Cir.).

  • Bryan v. McPherson. 2010. 630 F. 3d 805 (9th Cir.).

  • Cabral v. County of Glenn. 2009. 624 F.Supp.2d 1184 (E.D. California).

  • Casey v. City of Federal Heights. 2007. 509 F.3d 1278 (10th Cir.).

  • City of Canton v. Harris. 1989. 489 U.S. 378.

  • Cohen, T.H. 2013. Pretrial detention and misconduct in federal district courts, 1995–2010. Bureau of Justice Statistics: U.S. Department of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  • County of Sacramento v. Lewis. 1998. 523 U.S. 833.

  • Crowell v. Kirkpatrick. 2010. 400 Fed. Appx. 592 (2nd Cir.).

  • del Carmen, R.V. 1991. Civil liabilities in American policing: A text for law enforcement personnel. Englewood Cliffs: Brady.

    Google Scholar 

  • Estate of Booker v. Gomez. 2014. 745 F.3d 405 (10th Cir.).

  • Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington. 2012. 132 S.Ct. 1510.

  • Forrest v. Prine. 2010. 620 F.3d 739, (7th Cir.).

  • Frasier, M.L. 2005. The use of conducted energy devices (TASERs). Telemasp Bulletin 12 (6): 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  • General Accountability Office Report. 2005. GAO-05-464 Taser weapons: Use of tasers by selected law enforcement agencies, 1–25. Washington, D.C.: GAO.

  • Gerber, M., G. Walsh, and M. Hopmeier. 2014. Sensitivity of TATP to a Taser electrical output. Journal of Forensic Science 59 (6): 1638–1641.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graham v. Connor. 1989. 490 U.S. 386.

  • Hause v. Vaught. 1993. 993 F.2d 1079.

  • Hickey v. Reeder. 1993. 12 F.3d 754 (8th Cir.).

  • Hollingsworth v. City of St. Ann. 2015. 800 F.3d 985 (8th Cir.).

  • Hudson v. McMillan. 1992. 503 U.S. 1.

  • Ingraham v. Wright. 1977. 430 U.S. 651.

  • Johnson v. Glick.1973. 481 F.2d 1028 (2nd Cir.).

  • Kaady v. City of Sandy. 2008. 2008 WL 5111101 (D. Oregon).

  • Kappeler, V.E. 2001. Critical issues in police civil liability. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson. 2015. 135 S.Ct. 2466.

  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson. 2015. 801 F.3d 828.

  • Kornblum, R.N., and S.K. Reddy. 1991. Effects of the TASER in fatalities involving police confrontation. Journal of Forensic Sciences 36 (2): 434–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lewis v. Downey. 2009. 581 F.3d 467.

  • Mattos v. Agarano and Brooks v. City of Seattle. 2011. 661 F.3d 433 (9th Cir.).

  • M.H. v. County of Alemeda. 2014. 62 F.Supp.3d 1049 (N.D. California).

  • Monell v. Department of Social Services, City of New York. 1978. 436 U.S. 658.

  • Nykiel v. Borough of Sharpsburg. 2011. 778 F.Supp.2d 573 (W.D. Pennsylvania).

  • Orem v. Rephann. 2008. 523 F. 3d 442 (4th Cir.).

  • Porro v. Barnes. 2010. 624 F.3d 1322.

  • Preston, M. (2012), Taser! Taser! Taser!, Corrections.com, 5 March 2012. http://www.corrections.com/news/article/29899-taser-taser-taser. Accessed 29 July 2016.

  • Robertson, J.E. 2007. Recent legal developments: Correctional case law 2006. Criminal Justice Review 32: 184–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosen, C.J. 1990. Jail law. The Prison Journal 70: 24–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roska v. Peterson. 2003. 328 F.3d 1230 (10th Cir.).

  • Shreve v. Franklin County, Ohio. 2014. 743 F.3d 126 (6th Cir.).

  • Smith v. Conway County, Arkansas. 2014. 759 F.3d 853.

  • Stephens v. City of Butler, Alabama. 2007. 509 F.Supp.2d 1098 (S.D. Alabama).

  • Taser International Inc. 2011. http://www.Taser.com/images/downloads/pdf/Press-Kit.pdf. Accessed May 26 2011.

  • Taser International Inc. 2014. www.taser.com.

  • Taser International Inc. 2017. https://www.taser.com/.

  • Thomas v. Plummer. 2012. 489 Fed. Appx. 116 (6th Cir.).

  • Turner v. Safley. 1987. 482 U.S. 78.

  • Valentine v. Richardson. 2008. WL 80129 (D. South Carolina).

  • White, M.D., and J. Ready. 2007. The taser as a less lethal force alternative: Findings on use and effectiveness in a large metropolitan police agency. Police Quarterly 10 (2): 170–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, M.D., J.T. Ready, R.J. Kane, and L.M. Dario. 2014. Examining the effects of the TASER on cognitive functioning: Findings from a pilot study with police recruits. Journal of Experimental Criminology 10: 267–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, H.E. 2008. TASER electronic control devices and sudden in-custody death: Separating evidence from conjecture. Springfield: Thomas.

    Google Scholar 

  • Worley, V.B. 2010. “Don’t tase me, bro”: Civil Liabilities for Use of ECDs by Jail and Prison Officers. Criminal Law Bulletin 46 (3): 638–663.

    Google Scholar 

  • Worley, V.B., and R.M. Worley. 2011a. Shocking policy: Municipal liability for the use of tasers and stun guns by the police. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations 11 (1): 72–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Worley, V.B., and R. M. Worley. 2011b. Failure to train ‘stuns’ police departments in the United States of America. The Voice, 29–34 (Yearly Magazine of the Gauhati High Court Bar Association).

  • Worley, V.B., and R.M. Worley. 2014. Shocking decisions: Tasers, stun guns, use-of-force continuum, and legal liability of police and correctional officers. Criminal Law Bulletin 50 (6): 1360–1387.

    Google Scholar 

  • Worley, V.B., and R.M. Worley. 2017. Smart weapons need smart policies: Municipal liability for inappropriate use of tasers and stun guns by police officers. Criminal Law Bulletin 53 (1): 34–60.

    Google Scholar 

  • Worley, V.B., M.S. Vaughn, and R.M. Worley. 2012. ‘Shocking’ consequences: Police officer liability for the use of tasers and stun guns. Criminal Law Bulletin 48 (4): 625–654.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vidisha Barua Worley.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Worley, V.B. Smart use of smart weapons: jail officer liability for the inappropriate use of tasers and stun guns on pretrial detainees. Secur J 31, 726–748 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41284-018-0127-4

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41284-018-0127-4

Keywords

  • Taser
  • Use-of-force
  • Pretrial detainees
  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson (2015)