A group calling itself The Cycoloists has a pretty unique thing going on. They make music… using instruments made from their bikes… yea… their bikes… It’s very cool. You can check them out here doing a jazzed out arrangement of Good King Wenceslas.
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Filed under: Accident Reconstruction, Bike Law 101, Statistics, Taser Cases, Uncategorized
Kids these days tend to think they invented everything from Rock n Roll to the Internet, right? History lessons can be tough to teach when it seems like it all happened SO LONG AGO. How can that old, old stuff be relevant today?
Taser cases have been in the news a lot recently. Every day the papers report that police subdued a bad guy with a Taser instead of a club or a gun. In the vast majority of cases, the police use Tasers appropriately and Tasers present a weapon choice to officers which allows them to potentially subdue the bad guys without close quarters contact and without shooting them or whacking them with a stick. More and more, though, questions have been raised about the use of the Taser by police – whether it was appropriate or not. I’ve chronicled a few of these cases in prior posts.
Complaints about Taser use are not new, however, and weren’t invented by today’s generation of kids or cops or reporters.
Tasers are also known as “ECD’s” or Electronic Control Devices. “Taser” is a brand, like “Kleenex,” that has become synonymous with ECD’s. It’s become a verb – to “taser” someone is to shoot them with an ECD. A “taser” is also a noun, defined in Wikipedia to be “… an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles …”
Taser International, Inc. is the company that makes the Taser brand of ECD. You can go to the website here. Like the Kleenex folks and the Xerox folks they take great pains to protect their brand. They sell their Taser Brand ECD’s for “Consumers” as well as Law Enforcement, Corrections officers, private security firms and the military.
TASER is an acronym, like LASER [“Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” – you knew that, right?]. It reflects an homage to a book, published originally in 1911, called “Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle,” in which the main character constructs a weapon similar to today’s ECD’s. You can read about it here. In the book the name of the main character was “Thomas A. Swift.”
According to the “Company Trivia” page of Taser International’s website, “TASER is a registered trademark. The name stems from an acronym created by the original inventor of TASER technology, John H. “Jack” Cover, former chief scientist of North American Aerospace’s Apollo Moon Landing Program. Jack’s favorite book character is Tom Swift of the Tom Swift Series, authored by Victor Appleton in 1910-1941. One of the books, TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RIFLE, inspired Jack to create the acronym TASER.”
The early Taser products were sold to police departments. I was fortunate enough to be involved in one of the early “Taser” cases – Russo v. City of Cincinnati.
The facts of this case were, in a word, incredible. I have reprinted the 6th Circuit decision below. The short story is that in 1987 Tom Bubenhofer was a paranoid schizophrenic who refused to return to the hospital after being allowed out on a 3 hour pass. Police were called. Tom locked himself in his Clifton apartment near the University of Cincinnati. Police kicked the door down, “Tasered” him and then began shooting when the Taser was ineffective. When they kicked in the door, Tom was standing there with kitchen knives in his hand. As a paranoid schizophrenic he thought they were out to get him – and they were.
Tom shook off the first few Taser shots and ran through a crossfire of bullets, falling down a flight of stairs. There, police Tasered him again and again, trying to get him to “drop the knife” and give up. Police testimony was that Tom refused and after several minutes, he tried to come at them up the stairs. This prompted a volley of gunfire at Tom, driving him back down the steps. Police said Tom tried to come at them up the stairs again and this time the volley of gunfire killed him. There was conflicting testimony from a number of witnesses as to what happened and why.
One thing was certain – 23 shots were fired – 22 hit Tom. Tom was also hit with 8 Taser shots.
Suit was filed against the officers and the City. The trial court dismissed and the 6th Circuit reversed, in part. The case returned to the trial court where it was settled out of court for a confidential sum.
I was fortunate and privileged to work with Tom’s family. It was the first civil rights case I had ever handled and one of my first federal court experiences. Because the drama played out over the course of 15-20 minutes, the press was present at the scene before it was over. The sound of the final volley of shots are caught on videotape.
Cincinnati Police had a “Barricaded Persons” policy in effect at that time. An independent review determined without question that this policy was not followed. There was no need to break the door down when a known paranoid schizophrenic was barricaded inside. There were 3 officers on the small landing outside Tom’s apartment and one more looking in from a window.
For years I received regular calls on the Russo case from lawyers around the country. They thought the number of bullets fired was typo! This case was one of the first cases to look at the use of a Taser in a dramatic setting. The court determined that the Taser use in this case was appropriate – an appropriate non-lethal use of force. I don’t disagree. The problem is that the only reason ANY force had to be used was because Tom’s 4th Amendment rights were violated when police broke down his door and confirmed, in HIS mind, that they WERE out to get him. Had they followed the Barricaded Persons procedure, Tom might still be alive today.
The Russo case has made a comeback. Today’s news brings claims almost daily that a Taser weapon was misused by police. In my case, Patrick v. Lawless, a cyclist is claiming that he was stopped, Tasered, beat with a baton, arrested, jailed and charged with a variety of crimes – all without probable cause. That case is percolating through the system now. Some of the issues I argued in Russo, some 17 years ago, will come up again today.
The Russo case is set forth in full below.
RUSSO V. CITY OF CINCINNATI
Holding: Officers use a Taser on a knife-wielding, mentally impaired, and suicidal person. When that is ineffective, they shoot him twice and he later died. The court said, “Although in hindsight his choice proved tragic, we cannot say that [the] use of non-lethal force to subdue a potentially homicidal individual transgressed clearly established law. … Although … subsequent firings of the Taser present a closer question than [the] initial use of the Taser, we note again that his actions were intended to avoid having to resort to lethal force. … We conclude, therefore, that [the defendant] was entitled to qualified immunity in his use of the Taser and, accordingly, reverse the district court’s denial of summary judgment.” Russo v. Cincinnati, 953 F.2d 1036 (6th Cir. 1992).
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Karen S. Russo, et al.,
City of Cincinnati, et al.,
953 F.2d 1036
1992 U.S. App. Lexis 437
August 8, 1991, Argued
January 15, 1992, Decided
January 15, 1992, Filed
Corrected January 27, 1992.
From the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
JONES and SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judges; and WELLFORD, Senior Circuit Judge. [*1039]
JONES, Circuit Judge, delivered the opinion of the court, in which WELLFORD, Senior Circuit Judge, joined as to parts I and II. WELLFORD, Senior Circuit Judge (pp. 22-25), also delivered a separate concurring opinion as to part III. SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judge (pp. 26-28), delivered a separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
JONES, Circuit Judge.
On January 6, 1988, plaintiffs-appellees, the estate and family of Thomas Bubenhofer, filed a complaint seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1988) against defendants-appellants, Police Sergeant Richard Sizemore, Police Officer Robert Burch Scholl, Police Specialist Sandra Lemker, and the City of Cincinnati for the shooting death of Thomas Bubenhofer. The plaintiffs alleged three theories of recovery: (1) that the officers’ warrantless entry into Bubenhofer’s apartment violated his constitutional rights; (2) that the officers’ use of force was excessive; and (3) that the City of Cincinnati’s (“City’s”) failure to train adequately its officers proximately caused these deprivations of Bubenhofer’s rights.
On April 16, 1990, the district court granted summary judgment for the City on the failure to train claim and for Lemker and Scholl on the excessive force claim. The court also granted summary judgment on the unlawful search claim but denied summary judgment as to Sizemore on the excessive force claim. In the present action, Sizemore appeals the district court’s denial of summary judgment on the claim of excessive force, and plaintiffs appeal the grant of summary judgment as to all other defendants and claims. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part.
On February 6, 1987, Cincinnati police officers shot thirty-seven-year-old Thomas Bubenhofer. Bubenhofer died the next morning as a direct result of the shooting.
Prior to the shooting, Bubenhofer had been under the occasional care of physicians at the Rollman Psychiatric Institute (“RPI”) and was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. On February 6, 1987, RPI granted Bubenhofer a two-hour leave pass. Bubenhofer was picked up from RPI by his sister Karen Russo at approximately 11:45 a.m., who took him to his apartment at 323 Terrace Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. Soon thereafter, Bubenhofer stated he did not wish to return to RPI and left the apartment. Russo reported his actions to RPI, which immediately notified the Cincinnati Police Department. The Department, in turn, broadcast over police radio that Bubenhofer was a walk-away from RPI who was “suicidal, homicidal, and a hazard to police.” J. A. at 712.
At approximately 7:30 that evening, Russo and her brother, Don Bubenhofer, returned to Thomas Bubenhofer’s apartment. Dennis Bauer, the building manager, unlocked the apartment door for Russo and Don Bubenhofer, who saw a figure under the bedcovers in the bedroom they assumed was Thomas. The three then left the apartment and called the Cincinnati Police for assistance in returning Thomas Bubenhofer to RPI.
Officer Scholl arrived at the apartment at 7:52 p.m., followed soon thereafter by Officers Lemker and Sizemore. All three officers had heard the police broadcast on [*1040] Bubenhofer and were therefore aware that Bubenhofer was potentially dangerous. After being told by Russo that Bubenhofer was alone in his apartment and did not have a gun, the three officers entered the apartment building, followed by Russo, Bauer, and Don Bubenhofer. Sizemore carried a Taser, and all three officers were armed with service revolvers. n1 Placing themselves on the landing outside of Thomas Bubenhofer’s apartment door, the officers notified Bubenhofer of their presence and asked him to open the door. He replied that he wanted to be left alone and threatened to kill anyone who entered the apartment.
Officer Alan March arrived at 7:57 p.m. and took up a position outside the building near a window looking into Bubenhofer’s illuminated apartment. March reported by radio that the apartment door was blocked by a couch, and that Bubenhofer was holding the lock bolt with a pair of pliers to prevent the opening of the door with a key. March also reported that Bubenhofer had two butcher knives on a table nearby. At the request of one of the officers, Bauer attempted to open the door with a pass key, but was unsuccessful. The officers attempted to have March distract Bubenhofer from the door so that they could open it. This also proved fruitless. At one point, a conversation involving provoking language took place between the officers and Thomas Bubenhofer.
Suddenly, Bubenhofer opened the door to his apartment and stood in the doorway. He held a knife in each hand with the blades pointed at the officers. Officers Lemker and Scholl drew their revolvers and told Bubenhofer to drop the knives. Bubenhofer stood silently in front of them for a number of seconds, then quickly closed the door.
After Don Bubenhofer objected to the officers’ show of force, he, Russo, and Bauer were ordered to leave the building. Without the officers’ knowledge, Bauer concealed himself on a landing immediately inside the entrance door to the building and a few steps lower than the landing outside Bubenhofer’s apartment.
Following the removal of Russo and Don Bubenhofer, Thomas Bubenhofer continued to make threats against the officers. Defendants also contend that Bubenhofer at this point threatened to take his own life, a claim that both Russo and Bauer dispute. Moments later, the apartment went dark and Bubenhofer fell silent.
At this point, Sizemore decided to force the apartment door, which swung open approximately four to six inches. Within moments, Thomas Bubenhofer fully opened the door. According to Sizemore, Bubenhofer stood just inside the doorway, holding a knife in each hand in essentially the same position as in his first encounter with the officers. Bauer, however, testified that from his vantage point below the landing, Bubenhofer appeared to be in a crouched position, resting on the backs of his heels.
Upon seeing Bubenhofer, Sizemore fired a Taser dart. The dart struck Bubenhofer’s midsection, and he began to shake and falter. Bubenhofer then appeared to shake off the effects of the Taser, whereupon Sizemore fired a second dart. Again Bubenhofer appeared stunned. Once again, however, Bubenhofer overcame the effect of the Taser and rushed toward Sizemore, both knives pointed at him. Officers Lemker and Scholl immediately fired their revolvers several times at Bubenhofer, who lurched into Sizemore and then fell down six or seven steps to a small landing by the front door of the building. At this point, Bubenhofer was lying at the bottom of the stairwell holding one knife, and the officers stood on the landing above him.
The officers repeatedly asked Bubenhofer to drop the knife. They also told him [*1041] they had help for him, and that they would send him to a hospital.
According to defendants, Bubenhofer managed to get up, whereupon Sizemore fired another Taser dart, hitting Bubenhofer in the face. Although it seemed to have some initial effect, Bubenhofer again appeared to shake off its effects, at which point Sizemore fired a fourth dart at Bubenhofer. The officers claim that Bubenhofer then charged up the steps at them, knife in hand. Lemker and Scholl fired their revolvers several times. Bubenhofer fell back down the steps. He remained conscious and still had a knife in one hand.
Again the officers sought to persuade Bubenhofer to drop the knife. At one point, Bubenhofer put down the knife, then picked it back up. The officers claim that soon thereafter, Bubenhofer again stood up and began to come up the stairs, knife in hand, at which point all three officers fired at Bubenhofer. Bubenhofer fell back down to the bottom of the stairs. Plaintiffs deny that Bubenhofer ever stood up or charged towards the officers, relying upon the testimony of Robert Kean, a neighbor who witnessed some of the incident, apparently from his house looking through a window onto the stairway.
After the third round of shots, Bubenhofer lay still, at which point a rescue unit entered. Thomas Bubenhofer was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died at 1:25 a.m. He had been shot a total of twenty-two times.
On September 25, 1987, the Cincinnati Office of Municipal Investigation filed a report stating that Sizemore did not follow proper police procedure in that (1) he should have considered Bubenhofer a “barricaded person” within the meaning of section 12.175 of the Cincinnati Police Division Procedure Manual (“C.P.D.P.M.”) and accordingly requested the assistance of a S.W.A.T. team, and (2) that Sizemore’s use of the Taser did not comport with section 12.546 of the C.P.D.P.M., which states in relevant part: “Officers should obtain sufficient back-up prior to using the Taser to control the suspect. Personnel should be deployed in such a manner that would enable them to use other appropriate means to subdue the suspect if the Taser is ineffective.” J.A. at 381. The report concluded that “any reasonable person would conclude that Tom Bubenhofer should have been considered a barricaded person and if forced into a confrontation would respond violently.” Id.
The report also concluded that the use of the revolvers by the officers was justified by the need for self-defense. Finally, the report concluded that, based on interviews with the officers, “recruit training regarding the mentally ill appears inadequate, in-service training is virtually non-existent and although the police division procedure manual is specific regarding the operational aspects such as dealing with barricaded person, there are no procedures or methods for interviewing mentally ill individuals.” Id. at 384.
The district court granted summary judgment for all three officers On plaintiffs’ claim that breaking into Bubenhofer’s apartment violated the Fourth Amendment’s proscription against unreasonable searches, concluding that exigent circumstances existed justifying the officers’ actions. The court granted summary judgment to Lemker and Scholl on the excessive force claim, finding their use of firearms justified. The court granted summary judgment to the City on plaintiffs’ failure-to-train claim, finding that plaintiffs were unable to show “deliberate indifference” to officer training. Finally, the court denied summary judgment to Sizemore on the claim that his use of the Taser constituted excessive force.
We review a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Vollrath v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 899 F.2d 533, 534 (6th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 112 L. Ed. 2d 310, 111 S. Ct. 345 (1990). We also adopt the standard set forth in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986) (cited with approval in Curry v. Vanguard Ins. Co., 923 F.2d 484, 485 (6th Cir. 1991)), which held that, in a motion for summary [*1042] judgment, “credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . . The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. The standard of review in any given case, however, turns in part on the underlying substantive dispute, as “the determination of whether a given factual dispute requires submission to a jury must be guided by the substantive evidentiary standards that apply to the case.” Id.
To successfully state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must identify a right secured by the United States Constitution and the deprivation of that right by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 101 L. Ed. 2d 40, 108 S. Ct. 2250 (1988). The plaintiffs here assert two claims against the police officers as individuals: (1) that the breaking down of Bubenhofer’s door without a warrant constituted an unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (2) that the officers’ “tasering” and shooting of Bubenhofer constituted an excessive use of force. In response, all three officers assert qualified immunity.
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288, 87 S. Ct. 1213 (1967), established that police officers enjoy qualified immunity from suits brought under § 1983. In Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 816-18, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982), the Court eschewed a subjective qualified immunity. standard and held instead that “government officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 89 L. Ed. 2d 271, 106 S. Ct. 1092 (1986), extended the rule articulated in Harlow to hold that police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless, “on an objective basis, it is obvious that no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that [the conduct was lawful]; but if officers of reasonable competence could disagree on this issue, immunity should be recognized.”
The Court’s most recent major pronouncement on the law of qualified immunity as it relates to police officers stands in Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523, 107 S. Ct. 3034 (1987). The Anderson Court faced a plaintiff who had successfully argued at the appellate level that the “clearly established law” violated in his case was the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of illegal searches and seizures. In reversing the appellate court’s determination, the Court stated two important principles of law.
First, noting that the operation of the qualified immunity standard “depends substantially upon the level of generality at which the relevant ‘legal rule’ is to be identified[,]” the Court held that, in order for a plaintiff to make a successful claim, “the contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Id. at 639-40. Although it need not be the case that “the very action in question has previously been held unlawful, . . . in the light of pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be apparent.” Id. at 640 (cited with approval in Danese v. Asman, 875 F.2d 1239, 1242 (6th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1027, [*1050] 110 S. Ct. 1473, 108 L. Ed. 2d 610 (1990)).
Second, while reaffirming that a subjective inquiry has no place in the qualified immunity analysis, the Court clarified that the reasonableness of the officer’s action must be evaluated in light of the information that the defendant officer possessed at the time of the act, thus often requiring an “examination of the information possessed by the. . . officials.” Id. at 641.
In light of Anderson, we have addressed the standard for determining whether the law in a given area is clearly established to a degree sufficient to rebut a claim for qualified immunity, and have held that,
in the ordinary instance, to find a clearly established constitutional right, a district [*1043] court must find binding precedent by the Supreme Court, its court of appeals or itself. In an extraordinary case, it may be possible for the decisions of other courts to clearly establish a principle of law. For the decisions of other courts to provide such “clearly established law,” these decisions must both point unmistakably to the unconstitutionality of the conduct complained of and be so clearly foreshadowed by applicable direct authority as to leave no doubt in the mind of a reasonable officer that his conduct, if challenged on constitutional grounds, would be found wanting.
Ohio Civil Serv. Employees Ass’n v. Seiter, 858 F.2d 1171, 1177 (6th Cir. 1988).
When a claim to qualified immunity is raised within the context of a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must allege facts sufficient to indicate that the act in question violated clearly established law at the time the act was committed. See Dominque v. Telb, 831 F.2d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1987) (holding that plaintiff is obliged to present facts that, if true, would constitute violation of clearly established law). Thus, the plaintiff must effectively pass two hurdles when facing a defendant on summary judgment who claims qualified immunity. First, the allegations must “state a claim of violation of clearly established law.” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 86 L. Ed. 2d 411, 105 S. Ct. 2806 (1985). Second, the plaintiff must present “evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue as to whether the defendant in fact committed those acts.” Id. At the summary judgment stage, whether the legal violation alleged was clearly established at the time of the incident, as well as whether a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the alleged violation occurred, are questions of law for the court. Dominque, 831 F.2d at 677.
A. Search and seizure claim.
In granting summary judgment to all three officers on the claim that forcing open Bubenhofer’s apartment door constituted an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the district court found that “on an objective basis and as a matter of law these officers could have reasonably believed that a search of the apartment was lawful, to prevent suicide and return [Bubenhofer] to RPI.” J. A. at 25.
Under prevailing Supreme Court precedent, police officers must either have probable cause or exigent circumstances must exist before a warrantless, forcible entry into a private residence may be made for search or felony arrest purposes. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523, 107 S. Ct. 3034 (1987). We have recently clarified that “the exigent circumstances exception relies on the premise that the existence of an emergency situation, demanding urgent police action, may excuse the failure to procure a search warrant.” U.S. v. Radka, 904 F.2d 357, 361 (6th Cir. 1990). This court reviews de novo the district court’s legal conclusions with respect to the issue of exigency. Id.
At the time of Sizemore’s entry, it is uncontested that Sizemore understood: (1) that Bubenhofer was mentally disturbed; (2) that Bubenhofer had two large knives in his possession; (3) that the police radio transmission had described Bubenhofer as “suicidal”; and (4) that immediately before Sizemore forced open the door, Bubenhofer had turned out the lights and fallen silent. Taken together, we find that these uncontroverted facts may have led Sizemore to believe that Bubenhofer was in danger of committing suicide, thus convincing him that immediate entry into the apartment was necessary.
Plaintiffs counter that Sizemore’s actions were nevertheless unreasonable, particularly in light of a department policy that officers request S.W.A.T. assistance when confronted with “barricaded” person such as Bubenhofer. Whether Sizemore acted unreasonably is, we believe, a close question. Where qualified immunity is asserted, however, the reasonableness of an officer’s actions is only one part of the inquiry. To prevail, plaintiffs must also show that, under clearly established law, exigent circumstances did not exist such as to justify the officers’ forcible entry into Bubenhofer’s [*1044] apartment, and that Sizemore reasonably should have known this. Plaintiffs fail to cite a single case indicating that an officer’s attempt to rescue what that officer believes to be a suicidal person does not constitute exigent circumstances, nor are we aware of such precedent. Although the fact that Sizemore may have violated established police procedure certainly makes our task more difficult, the Supreme Court has indicated that the violation of established procedure alone is insufficient to overcome a qualified immunity claim. Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183, 194, 82 L. Ed. 2d 139, 104 S. Ct. 3012 (1984) (holding that officials sued for constitutional violations do not lose qualified immunity simply because their actions violate statutory or administrative procedure).
We conclude, therefore, that the district court properly granted summary judgment against plaintiffs on the illegal search and seizure claim.
B. Excessive force claims.
The use of excessive or unreasonable force by police officers in the exercise of their authority gives rise to a § 1983 cause of action. Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985). In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443, 109 S. Ct. 1865 (1989), the Supreme Court held that excessive force claims are to be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard rather than under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court further clarified that the reasonableness inquiry in an excessive force action is an objective one, which should disregard the underlying intent or motivation of the defendant. To determine whether exigent circumstances exist, a court should look to the “facts and circumstances of each articular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect pose[d] an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he [was] actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 396; see also Lewis v. City of Irvine, 899 F.2d 451 (6th Cir. 1990) (embracing the analysis in Graham); McDowell v. Rogers, 863 F.2d 1302, 1307 (6th Cir. 1988) (“Our court has repeatedly found that a totally gratuitous blow with a policeman’s nightstick may cross the constitutional line . . .”). Plaintiffs advance three distinct excessive force claims. We review the claims seriatim.
1. The initial use of the Taser.
At the time of Sizemore’s initial use of the Taser, Bubenhofer stood facing the officers a few feet within his apartment doorway with a knife in each hand. Sizemore knew that Bubenhofer was potentially homicidal and suicidal.
Plaintiffs rely on the testimony of Bauer to contend that Bubenhofer in no way threatened the officers prior to the initial discharge of the Taser, and to suggest that Bubenhofer may have even been sitting on the backs of his heels at this point. Furthermore, plaintiffs point out that Sizemore’s use of the Taser violated official policy, because section 12.546 of the C.P.D.P.M. states in relevant part that “officers should obtain sufficient back-up prior to using the Taser to control the suspect. Personnel should be deployed in such a manner that would enable them to use other appropriate means to subdue the suspect if the Taser is, ineffective.”
Our review of the uncontested facts, however, leads us to conclude that, although plaintiffs’ allegations may raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the use of the Taser was reasonable, plaintiffs have failed to show that clearly established law at the time of the incident declared such actions unconstitutional, or that an officer in Sizemore’s position would reasonably have known that his conduct transgressed constitutional law. Sizemore was aware that Bubenhofer was armed with knives, that he had made a number of threatening statements to the officers, and that RPI considered him potentially homicidal. The uncontested record indicates that Sizemore deployed the Taser in an effort to obviate the need for lethal force. Although in hindsight his choice proved tragic, we cannot say that Sizemore’s use [*1045] of non-lethal force to subdue a potentially homicidal individual transgressed clearly established law. We therefore conclude that the district court erred in refusing to grant summary judgment to Sizemore with respect to plaintiffs’ claim that the initial use of the Taser constituted excessive force.
2. The subsequent use of the Taser.
The district court found, and all the parties agree, that Sizemore fired the Taser at Bubenhofer while he lay at the bottom of the stairwell, that the dart struck Bubenhofer in the face, and that at this point Bubenhofer posed no immediate threat to the officers. The district court reasoned that “it should have been clear [to Sizemore] after its first use under an objectively reasonable standard that the use of the Taser gun effectively escalated the incident instead of preventing a suicide or inducing Thomas Bubenhofer to surrender.” J.A. at 28-29. The court thus held that, “applying the objective reasonableness test, the Court cannot conclude that the further use of the Taser by Sizemore . . . was objectively reasonable. . . . Thus, this Court cannot declare that Sizemore is immune from suit in this regard as a matter of law.” Id. at 32.
We suspect that the district court may have misapprehended the qualified immunity inquiry. As discussed above, the issue is not simply whether Sizemore acted in a reasonable manner, but also whether his actions violated clearly established law, and whether an officer in Sizemore’s position would reasonably have known that his conduct was illegal. Although Sizemore’s subsequent firings of the Taser present a closer question than his initial use of the Taser, we note again that his actions were intended to avoid having to resort to lethal force. While Sizemore’s later uses of the Taser, after its initial ineffectiveness, might appear questionable, we cannot conclude that they constituted a show of excessive force. We conclude, therefore, that Sizemore was entitled to qualified immunity in his use of the Taser and, accordingly, reverse the district court’s denial of summary judgment.
3. The use of deadly force.
We have recently had occasion to reaffirm that, under this court’s clearly established precedent, a person has “a right not to be shot unless he [is] perceived to pose a threat to the pursuing officers or others.” Robinson v. Bibb, 840 F.2d 349, 351 (6th Cir. 1988) (citing with approval Garner v. Memphis Police Dep’t, 710 F.2d 240, 246 (6th Cir. 1983), aff’d and rem’d sub nom. Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985)).
Bubenhofer was shot a total of twenty-two times by officers Lemker, Scholl, and Sizemore, even though he was armed only with knives. In addition, plaintiffs raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether, in the second and third round of discharges of the officers’ revolvers, the officers may have shot Bubenhofer even though he posed no serious threat of physical harm. Finally, the record suggests that some ten to twelve minutes elapsed between the second and third series of shots, during which time Bubenhofer apparently dropped his knife. Given the current state of the record, we believe that a reasonable jury might conclude that the officers’ repeated use of their revolvers violated this court’s clearly established precedent on the use of deadly force. Therefore we find that summary judgment at this juncture was unwarranted.
Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to all three officers with respect to the shooting of Bubenhofer.
As a final matter, plaintiffs allege that the City’s failure to train adequately its police officers in the proper exercise of force on mentally disturbed individuals constitutes deliberate indifference to the rights of such persons.
The most recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court in the area of municipal liability in the § 1983 context is City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989). In City of Canton, the plaintiff, who had been [*1046] brought to the local police station by officers and thereafter slumped to the floor on two occasions, brought a § 1983 action against the city for failure to train its officers in recognizing when a person in their custody is in need of medical assistance. Pursuant to municipal regulations, shift commanders at the station were authorized to determine, in their sole discretion, whether a detainee required medical care. Shift commanders were provided with only first-aid training. Id. at 382. The Court held that
the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact. . . . Only where a failure to train reflects a ‘deliberate’ or ‘conscious’ choice by a municipality — a ‘policy’ as defined by our prior cases — can a city be liable for such a failure under § 1983.
Id. at 388-89.
In explicating its conception of “deliberate indifference,” the Court added:
The issue in a case like this one . . . is whether that training program is adequate; and if it is not, the question becomes whether such inadequate training can justifiably be said to represent ‘city policy.’ It may seem contrary to common sense to assert that a municipality will actually have a policy of not taking reasonable steps to train its employees. But it may happen that in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. Id. at 390.
To establish liability under City of Canton, “the plaintiff must prove . . . that the training program at issue is inadequate to the tasks that officers must perform; that the inadequacy is the result of the city’s deliberate indifference; and that the inadequacy is ‘closely related to’ or ‘actually caused’ the plaintiff’s injury.” Hill v. McIntyre, 884 F.2d 271, 275 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing City of Canton). Finally, we note that the City, unlike the individual officers in this case, is not entitled to any level of immunity; if the plaintiffs offered evidence that the training was inadequate within the meaning of City of Canton, then summary judgment was inappropriately granted.
The district court denied plaintiffs’ claim against the city for failure to train police officers on the basis of the following evidence:
The City of Cincinnati offers extensive training to its officers in the area of Human and Public Relations. It also offers a 6-7 hour training seminar to its officers entitled Disturbed-Distressed Persons. In addition, the Cincinnati Police Division Procedure Manual (CPDPM) provides guidance to officers in the handling of mentally-ill individuals and potential suicides. The record indicates that the Defendant officers had participated in the above offered training sessions.
J. A. at 34.
Plaintiffs contend that a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the offered training is adequate as a matter of law. First, plaintiffs point out that, although the officers conceded that they were frequently called upon to deal with mentally and emotionally disturbed and disabled individuals, none were able to give specific responses as to the content of their training. Plaintiffs also point to the Office of Municipal Investigation report of the Bubenhofer incident, which concluded:
Based on the testimonies [sic] of Sizemore, Lemker and Scholl, recruit training regarding the mentally ill appears inadequate, in-service training is virtually non-existent and although the police division procedure manual is specific regarding the operational aspects such as dealing with barricaded persons, there are no procedures or methods for interviewing mentally ill individuals or techniques for recognizing the mentally ill. Id. at 384.
Finally, plaintiffs offer the testimony of George L. Kirkham, Ph.D., an expert in [*1047] police procedures. His review of the training offered by the City to police officers led him to conclude that
none of the involved police personnel understood the appropriate procedures for reacting to mentally ill individuals, . . . a failing which must inevitably be linked to deficient training. Notwithstanding the apparent fact that Sergeant Sizemore as well as Officers Lemker and Scholl had nominally received such training from the available case records, the conclusion is ineluctable that it was not of such a nature as would assure a proper understanding and appropriate response to a situation of this sort.
Id. at 425. We hold that plaintiffs have offered sufficient evidence to suggest that the training program for police officers offered by the City with respect to the use of force on mentally disturbed persons is constitutionally inadequate, that this inadequacy results from the City’s deliberate indifference to the rights of such persons, and that this inadequacy may have directly resulted in Bubenhofer’s death.
The City would have us disregard the “conclusory” statements of Kirkham, and argue in the alternative that, regardless of Kirkham’s testimony, the simple fact that the officers had received some training in a course entitled “Disturbed-Distressed Persons” and that the Department had a policy of handling barricaded persons requires us to find that the training was adequate as a matter of law. To this we cannot agree.
As an initial matter, we do not believe the opinions of experts are to be given no weight by this court, as the City apparently urges. Especially in the context of a failure to train claim, expert testimony may prove the sole avenue available to plaintiffs to call into question the adequacy of a municipality’s training procedures. To disregard expert testimony in such cases would, we believe, carry with it the danger of effectively insulating a municipality from liability for injuries resulting directly from its indifference to the rights of citizens. Reliance on expert testimony is particularly appropriate where, as here, the conclusions rest directly upon the expert’s review of materials provided by the City itself.
Similarly, we find the fact that the City offered a seven-hour course entitled “Disturbed-Distress Persons” insufficient in and of itself to shield the City from liability. Just as in City of Canton, where the officers were trained in an area that nominally addressed the needs of the relevant class of persons, but where the content and adequacy of that training was in dispute, we find that the City has not established that there exists no genuine issue of material fact as to the adequacy of the City’s training. Although plaintiffs concede that the officers received the amount of training cited by the district court, they dispute that the content of the training was adequate. The City comes forth with no evidence to refute Kirkham’s conclusion that the content of the training offered was inadequate. To uphold summary judgment to the City on this issue would, we believe, necessarily rest on the rule that a municipality may shield itself from liability for failure to train its police officers in a given area simply by offering a course nominally covering the subject, regardless of how substandard the content and quality of that training is. We do not believe that this is, or should be, the state of the law.
Finally, we disagree that the mere fact that the City had a policy of dealing with barricaded persons constitutes conclusive proof that it was not deliberately indifferent to the rights of individuals in Bubenhofer’s position. We find instructive this court’s holding in Leach v. Shelby County Sheriff, 891 F.2d 1241 (6th Cir. 1989) cert. denied, 495 U.S. 932, 110 S. Ct. 2173, 109 L. Ed. 2d 502 (1990), where we found “more than sufficient evidence” of a policy of deliberate indifference to the rights of paraplegic prisoners where the plaintiff and at least fourteen other disabled prisoners received poor care while imprisoned. Id. at 1248. In Leach, we found that a municipality could be held liable for the deliberate indifference of its sheriff, despite the fact that the sheriff was required by statute to provide adequate care to all prisoners: [*1048]
Given the district court’s finding of deliberate indifference by the Sheriff in that at least 14 other paraplegics had received similar deplorable treatment, it is fair to say that the need for more adequate supervision was so obvious and the likelihood that the inadequacy would result in the violation of constitutional rights was so great that the County as an, entity can be held liable here for the extent of [plaintiff’s] . . . damages. Id.
In the case at bar, plaintiffs have offered sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the training offered by the City to its police officers on the use of force in handling mentally and emotionally disturbed individuals falls to the level of “deliberate indifference” under City of Canton. We therefore reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City on plaintiffs’ failure to train claim.
For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Officer Sizemore on the search and seizure claim, but REVERSE the denial of summary judgment to Sizemore on use of the Taser, REVERSE the grant of summary judgment to Officers Lemker, Scholl, and Sizemore on the use of lethal force, REVERSE the grant of summary judgment to the City on the failure to train claim, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Note to main opinion:
1 The term “taser” refers to an electronic device used to subdue violent or aggressive persons. It is classified as a firearm by the federal government. The Taser is a battery-charged unit approximately the size and appearance of a flashlight. It holds two cartridges, each containing a hooked barb, or dart, attached to the cartridge by a long, electricity-conducting wire. Each dart can be fired independently by depressing the corresponding lever located on the frame of the Taser. By continuing to press on the lever, a high voltage electrical current is transmitted through the wire to the target.
WELLFORD, Senior Circuit Judge, concurring:
I am fully in accord with Judge Jones with respect to parts I and II of his opinion.
While concurring as to part III, I feel it appropriate to emphasize the narrow area of liability of the municipality on a claim of a failure to train adequately its police officers in dealing with unstable or mentally incompetent persons under the circumstances of this case. We have decided that the individual police officer defendants have qualified immunity with respect to the warrantless entry. The City incontestably also has a “barricaded person” policy that applies in this type of situation. It is, therefore, clear on this record that the City may not be held liable on the warrantless entry claim because we have concluded that the exigent circumstances warranted the entry in this particular case. The officers harbored an objective and reasonable belief of potential suicide or serious harm being self-inflicted by Bubenhofer. The City may not, therefore, be liable on the seizure or entry claim based on a failure to train.
Nor can the City be liable for the defendant officers’ use of the taser weapon. It is clear that the taser was designed to be used in this type of circumstance: to stun and to disable temporarily rather than to inflict more serious or more permanent injury. We have found it objectively reasonable to have used the taser under the circumstances confronting the officers. The City cannot be held liable, therefore, on the claim relating to the initial or subsequent use of the taser.
There remains the claim, dealt with in part III of the majority opinion, that the City allegedly failed to train its police force adequately in the proper use of force on mentally disturbed individuals. The remaining area of liability is confined to the actions of the officers, if inadequately trained within the meaning of applicable law, after Bubenhofer was drawn out of the apartment, weapon or weapons in hand, confronting the police officers on the scene. We have held that as a matter of summary judgment the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity in the repeated use of their pistols at short range upon Bubenhofer.
It seems to me that we can hold the City likewise not entitled to summary judgment in connection with this portion only of plaintiffs’ claims. This essentially involves the issue whether the City has trained its police officers properly in the use of deadly force within the meaning of Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985). Here, the officers confronted an apparently violent individual, drawn out of his apartment involuntarily, [*1049] who threatened them with apparent immediate and serious bodily harm. The only factor making this case different from the numerous excessive force cases since Garner (see, e.g., Carter v. City of Chattanooga, 850 F.2d 1119 (6th Cir. 1988), is that the subject of the police action here was known to be mentally disturbed.
The Court in City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989), limited the application of the “failure-to-train” theory of recovery to cases “‘where the failure to train amounts to a deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [officers] come in contact.’” Walker v. Norris, 917 F.2d 1449 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Harris, 489 U.S. at 388). It is only when this failure to train amounts to a “deliberate indifference” that such a failure can be said to be a “policy or custom,” as defined by prior cases, that is actionable against a municipality under § 1983. Harris, 489 U.S. at 389.
Inadequate training may amount to a municipal policy only if “the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the [municipality] can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” Id. at 388-89 (emphasis added). In order to hold the City liable, the factfinder would have to find that the inadequacy of training was so likely to result in the constitutional injury to mentally ill persons, that the City’s policymakers could be deemed to be callous and indifferent to the need for training in that area. I would add as a caveat in this type of case that it is not enough that an officer may be unsatisfactorily or insufficiently trained, because an inadequate training program may not necessarily be a proximate cause of the officer’s deficiency in handling a particular emergency or confrontation. In any event, plaintiff must carry the heavy burden of proving the City’s alleged policy of deliberate indifference and that the deficiency, if any, was a proximate cause of the death.
Dr. Kirkham, plaintiffs’ expert, testified that the police officers did not know the appropriate procedures for this type of situation, and that this failing must have been “linked to” inadequate training. In my view, to maintain plaintiffs’ claim against the City, plaintiffs must make a stronger showing than this. The Office of Municipal Investigation report, concluding that the training was inadequate based on the testimony of the officer-defendants, also concluded that training was virtually non-existent. The City, however, showed that it held a 6-7 hour seminar on how to deal with disturbed persons and engaged in extensive training in the area of human and public relations.
I agree with the majority opinion that this conflicting evidence presents an issue of material fact that requires the reversal of the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the City but only in one aspect of plaintiffs’ excessive force claim.
I would add that I am not sure that, under the circumstances of this violent confrontation, the factor of mental illness is a consideration. Whether one in Bubenhofer’s position were deranged, drunk, under the influence of drugs, or merely angry and upset for unknown reasons may not be material. The question is whether the City adequately trained these officers to use potentially deadly force in confronting this general type of situation. I find this issue, like the others, close and difficult under the circumstances, but I opt to give plaintiff the benefit of doubt in this regard.
I concur in reversing the grant of summary judgment to the City in the limited respect indicated. I concur otherwise, without reservation, in parts I and II.
SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judge, Concurring in part and dissenting in part. I concur in the court’s opinion as to Parts I and II. However, I dissent from Part III, dealing with municipal liability for inadequate training.
The majority opinion correctly recognizes that claims of inadequate training brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are governed by City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989). Harris set forth three elements that must be proven to hold a municipality liable for inadequate training: (1) the training must, in fact, be inadequate; (2) the inadequacy must result from the municipality’s deliberate indifference; and (3) the deliberate indifference must be closely related to or cause the constitutional violation complained of. Id. at 388-90; accord Hill v. McIntyre, 884 F.2d 271, 275 (6th Cir. 1989).
In determining whether the training program was adequate, the focus must be on the program itself, not on whether a particular officer was adequately trained. Harris, 489 U.S. at 390-91. In support of its finding of sufficient evidence of inadequate training the majority improperly relies upon such officer-specific evidence. The majority relies on the appellants’ submission that Officers Sizemore, Lemker, and Scholl “were [not] able to give specific responses as to the content of their training.” This is precisely the sort of evidence that the Supreme Court regards as “say[ing] little about the training program or the legal basis for holding the city liable.” Id. at 319.
Similarly, the expert testimony of Dr. Kirkham is of no evidentiary value in the instant case. Dr. Kirkham makes no specific findings regarding the program itself. Instead, he engages in the wild speculation that because the officers did not understand the appropriate procedures, the training program must be inadequate. This conjecture involves a leap that the Supreme Court has specifically forbidden. Id. at 390-91 (mere fact that a particular officer is inadequately trained is not sufficient as it might be that a sound program is occassionally negligently administered). Dr. Kirkham’s conclusion is based solely on the conduct and circumstances of the particular officers involved in the instant case. To be evidence upon which a finding of inadequacy may be based, the conclusion must be based on specifically perceived shortcomings of the training program itself. [d1]
Finally, the appellants rely on the City of Cincinnati Office of Municipal Investigation (“OMI”) report. This report concluded, based on interviews with officers Sizemore, Lemker, and Scholl, that the training program was inadequate. The Interviews, however, revealed only that the officers were unable to recall the specifics of the training program. The report does not reveal any attempt to adduce the content of the training program. The OMI report thus suffers from the same deficiency as Dr. Kirkham’s testimony, it focuses on the officers rather than the program.
The appellants claim that the training program was inadequate. A report that fails to determine the content of that program or the manner in which it was administered is no evidence of the adequacy of the program.
Even if the appellants’ evidence were sufficient, the record does not even contain a hint that the asserted inadequacy resulted from the city’s deliberate indifference. Claims of inadequate training test fundamental considerations of judicial restraint. First, when a federal court reviews municipal or state executive conduct or policy, as here, it must be very careful not to violate principles of federalism. Second, the federal judiciary must remain ever-mindful of its limited competence regarding executive functions, such as the formulation and administration of training programs.
In order to safeguard our system of federalism and limit the judiciary to the ambit of its competence, the Supreme Court imposed the exacting deliberate indifference requirement. To constitute deliberate indifference, the training program’s inadequacy must “reflect a ‘deliberate’ or ‘conscious’ choice by a municipality. . . .” Harris, 489 U.S. at 389. The fact that the city had a training program and policies dealing with the circumstances here at issue demonstrates, though perhaps [*1051] not conclusively, that the city was not deliberately indifferent to the rights of the mentally ill. Having come forward with this evidence, it is incumbent upon the plaintiffs to point to specific facts that give rise to a genuine issue of fact as to deliberate indifference. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The plaintiffs have failed to do so. Certainly, the evidence previously discussed, which relates only to the conduct of the officers, is not probative of the city’s fault. The record also fails to disclose any evidence whatsoever of the city’s attitude toward the challenged training program.
The majority’s reliance on Leach v. Shelby County Sheriff, 891 F.2d 1241 (6th Cir. 1989), is misguided. In Leach the court found that the sheriff, with whom the county reposed supervisory responsibility, was deliberately indifferent because he failed to act despite the occurrence of at least fourteen instances of identical “deplorable treatment.” The Supreme Court has recognized that inaction in the face of such often repeated violations can be said to be deliberate indifference. See Harris, 489 U.S. at 390 n. 10. In the instant case, there is no evidence of often repeated violations of the rights of furloughed psychiatric patients by police officers. Nor has the plaintiff introduced even a scintilla of other evidence that the city made a conscious or deliberate choice to be indifferent regarding its training program.
I must, therefore, respectfully dissent from the reversal of summary judgment on the inadequate training claim.
Note to dissenting opinion:
d1 I do not mean to suggest that expert testimony is never to be given weight. However, such testimony must first disclose a proper legal basis, which Dr. Kirkham’s testimony does not. In this regard, I am in agreement with the concurring opinion.
Washington D.C. lawyer John B. Mezirow must be a funny guy. In addition to being a “bike lawyer” and listed as one of the best lawyers in D.C. John edits an incredibly funny website called the Legal Juice. You can look at it here.
The Juice reviews all those goofy legal stories you wonder about. They check their facts, cite sources and give you the Real Juice! It’s been nominated as one of the top 100 law blawgs by the American Bar Association for the 3rd year in a row.
If you like your legal news with a smiley face attached, check out The Legal Juice.
Here’s a sample… from the December 10 edition …
Please, MADD, no emails. As a personal injury lawyer, the Juice is very aware of the dangers of drunk drivers. Fortunately, this guy didn’t hurt anyone. He had the good fortune to pass out while waiting for his food in a McDonald’s drive-thru in New Jersey! As reported by The Daily Journal:
Police responded to the McDonald’s for a report of an unconscious person in the driver’s seat of a vehicle in the drive-thru line at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
1:30 p.m.? Early start there, dude.
Officer Rick Earl said in his report that when he opened the driver’s side door of McRae’s truck, he smelled a strong odor of alcoholic beverage. McRae then awoke and said to the officer, “Hey, Sarge,” according to the report.
When Earl asked McRae if he had been drinking, McRae replied, “Yeah Sarge, I had a few, but we can work this out,” the report states.
McRae refused to perform field sobriety tests, according to the report, and was taken to police headquarters, where he needed help walking into the building. His vehicle was towed from the scene.
… driving while intoxicated, refusal to submit to a breath test and reckless driving.
Filed under: Accident Reconstruction, Bicycle Gear, Bike Law 101, Conspicuity, Motorcycle Gear, Statistics, Taser Cases
The hits, Taser hits, that is, keep on coming…
From Portland, the story of a cyclist Tasered can be read here
In an interesting twist, police in Austria arrested a CYCLIST who was ARMED WITH A RIFLE AND TASER, among other things… he was booked on charges of robbery and bike theft…
In Northern California, police Tasered a cyclist who they were trying to pull over for a crime – riding without proper lights at night. The cyclist jumped off and ran, prompting the officer to taser him.
In Pensacola, police are now banned from shooting Tasers from a moving vehicle. The reason, a kid on a bike was tasered and then run over by the police car!
In Arkansas, there is this report – a TEN YEAR OLD girl was tasered by police who were called to the house because the girl REFUSED TO TAKE A SHOWER AND KICKED THE OFFICER IN THE GROIN.
A cyclist was tasered in the Minneapolis St. Paul airport
In addition, Tony Patrick’s incident has received quite a bit of attention in
In my case, the cyclist was charged with a variety of crimes as a result of his interaction with local authorities in Lawrence County. After Tony’s criminal lawyer filed a Motion to Dismiss, the trial court held a hearing at which the deputy sheriff involved in the altercation testified. The judge, a cycilst, wrote an opinion in which he concluded that all charges filed against the cyclist had to be dismissed. He further held that:
– There was no legal reason for police to stop the cyclists
– There was no legal reason to arrest the cyclists.
– There was no need for the two cyclists, riding two abreast, to “pull over” since they were doing nothing wrong.
The court found that riding two abreast was allowed under Ohio law and found that they did not have to “give way” to cars traveling behind, although giving way was the more courteous way to ride!
The judge’s decision, issued a year ago, was recently selected by the editors for inclusion in the published cases of Ohio law. Only a very small percentage of cases are taken for publication -especially municipal court decisions. This important case outlines the rights of cyclists to use the roadway and the right of cyclists to NOT be hassled by police for simply exercising our right to ride!
If you want to read the TASER decision in State v. Tony Patrick, you can read the entire decision here.
Send me your TASER cases and I’ll try to get them online!
Do you have a helmet law in your state? Your county? Your city? Your village? Your township?
Odd questions? Not really, according to the most up to date statistics I can find [The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute] there are 22 states and 192 separate local helmet laws in the United States. These laws are chronicled in a chart which you can find here.
For example, in Ohio there is no state law, at this point, but 22 separate burgs have passed laws. These range from big [Cincinnati, Columbus] to medium [Akron, East Cleveland, Marietta] to small [Waynesville, Enon]. In Hamilton County, the Cincinnati and Blue Ash laws cover you if you are under 16, but the Madiera law applies if you are under 17. In Dayton, only those under 13 are covered but if you ride to Kettering, only those under 16 are covered. Up near Cleveland, the law in Euclid applies to those under 14, but the law says wear a helmet til you’re 18 in East Cleveland! In Shaker Heights, you’d better strap one on if you’re over the age of FIVE!
Helmets have not prevented one crash. They do, in my view, from time to time prevent injuries from crashes from being worse than they might otherwise be. However, by focusing on “safe crashing” and not safe riding, such laws send the wrong message.
MANY, many more motorists suffer head injuries than cyclists. MANY, many more motorists die each year in traffic crashes than cyclists. In Ohio, less than 20 people die each year riding their bikes. However, almost 1200 motorists were killed. Of the 564,000 vehicles involved in crashes on Ohio’s road, only 2000 bicycles were involved. Of the 112,000 total injuries from crashes on Ohio’s roads in 2008, only 1500 involved bicycle riders. You can read about Ohio’s Crash Facts here. The Ohio State Highway Patrol publishes an outstanding book of crash statistics each year.
Cycling represents a VERY small part of the traffic crash/fatality picture. Cycling is VERY safe. The emphasis on helmet laws is, to me, misplaced. It represents an “easy” knee jerk reaction to a non-problem.
More on the Helmet Debate later… Even though it does NOT back me up, here’s my favorite cartoon…
Filed under: Accident Reconstruction, Bicycle Gear, Bike Law 101, Conspicuity, Statistics
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE IN A BIKE/CAR CRASH
By Steven M. Magas, Ohio’s Bike Lawyer
Is Cycling “Safe?”
Statistically, we know that riding a bike is a VERY safe thing. While there are 30-40,000 motorists who die on our roadways each year, the number of cyclist fatalities has dropped considerably from a high of 1000 or so in the mid-1970s to around 700 in 2008. In Ohio, 10-20 riders are typically killed on the roads each year despite MILLIONS of active cyclists riding MILLIONS of miles. While motorcycle and pedestrian deaths are UP, cycling deaths are DOWN. You can read about bicycle crash statistics here at the IIHS website.
One reason for this decrease in cyclist deaths nationwide, I’m sure, is that the demographics of the “typical” cyclist involved in a fatal crash have totally flip-flopped since 1975. Back in the 1970’s, MOST cycling fatalities involved kids – people under the age of 16 – which meant that riders were somewhat unpredictable. There were a lot of “Dart Out” cases where children on bikes would suddenly appear on the roadway after darting out from a driveway.
Today, virtually all cycling deaths involved adults. 86% of all cycling fatalites involve people OVER 16 today. Today’s adult riders are more likely to treat operating a bicycle on the roadway the same as driving a car. They stay in their lane, know the rules of the road and don’t act in stupid or unpredictable ways – too often, anyway.
Think about it – how many kids do you see riding their bikes all over town today? When I was a kid in the early 1970’s that’s what we did. We left the house in the morning on our bikes and maybe came home for lunch. We rode our bikes everywhere. Today, there are many more people in the world and many, MANY more cars. However, there aren’t all that many new roads, so all those cars are sharing pretty much the same road space that was available 30+ years ago. Thus, traffic DENSITY is way up – there are simply more cars packed in per mile than ever before. Today, safety concerns, increased traffic and the busy schedules of today’s youth demand that mom and dad DRIVE them around to their appointments.
In addition to this phenomenon, there is an increased interest in fitness in adults today. In the mid-1970’s the only “older” [i.e., adult] folks you saw riding bikes on a regular basis were the hard-core cyclists. Today, more and more adults are re-discovering the joy and fun of cycling and adding a fast ride to their fitness regimen. Trails are well-used and many adult cyclists are taking it to the streets to go fast and stay fit.
So, What Should You Do If You Are In A Crash??
Here are a few tips that can help BEFORE you’ve been in accident.
- Carry a cell phone. The cell phone can easily be a life saver. All cell phones will make 911 calls even if it doesn’t have active service. You can also use today’s cell phones to document the scene by taking a LOT of pictures of the scene, the dog or car/bus/truck that got you, your injuries, the address, the dog’s owner, witnesses, etc.
- Carry Identification & Insurance Information. It’s a good idea to copy your drivers license and then write or type your emergency contact information, health, auto and homeowner’s insurance information, blood type and any medical conditions or allergies that you have on the back. Laminate the copy and keep it on your person when you ride. Also, remember to keep it up to date if there are any changes. Carrying your health insurance information may seem obvious, but why do you need your auto and homeowner’s info? Well, your AUTO policy may pay some of your medical bills or even your entire claim if the motorist that hit you is underinsured or you have a lot of out of pocket medical expenses. Your HOMEOWNER’s policy will protect you if someone says that YOU did something wrong, or negligent, and damaged their person or property!
- Carry a pen and paper. You may need to exchange information with other people at the accident. Get names and numbers of as many witnesses as possible in case they leave the area before the police arrive.
IF YOU ARE IN A BIKE CRASH…
- Don’t Move. Many of my clients want to jump up and check on their bikes right away. Don’t do it. Just lie there and do a self-assessment. Have you lost consciousness? Can you feel/move your arms and legs? Are you bleeding? Do you have pain? Sharp pain? Shooting pain? Be able to describe how you are feeling to paramedics and EMT’s who will arrive.
- Call the POLICE at 911. Always wait for the police to respond to the accident scene so that an official report will be filed. Do not let anyone talk you out of calling the police. Many times cyclists do not realize that they have been injured until several hours after the accident. By then, it may be too late to identify the at-fault driver or properly document the crash. Many drivers who cause accidents will initially apologize and accept blame for the accident at the scene, but later, after they have time to consider the ramifications, will deny that they were negligent. This is particularly true in bicycle crashes. The police accident report will include the driver’s statements as well as all other witness statements.
- Seek medical attention. Riders tend to be very self sufficient and tough. Many will try to turn down offers of medical attention. DON’T DO IT. Accept help this time. Let the EMT’s treat you. This is proof that you were, in fact, injured and the medical records generated by the medical provider will help establish the extent of your injuries.
- Take Photos. Take several photos from different angles and lighting of your injuries as soon as possible after the accident. You can’t have too many photos. Photograph the scene, the bike, the other vehicle or dog, your wounds. The grosser and yuckier the better!
- Keep a Journal. Keep a journal (injury diary) of your physical symptoms starting immediately after the accident and make entries every day.
- Don’t fix your bike right away. Riders tend to be tinkers and self sufficient. They want to get back to RIDING and get the bike fixed quickly. You need to keep your bike and clothing in the condition that it was in after the accident. Get the property damage assessed by an expert. Get a report of the damage AND of the “value” of the bike. Under Ohio law, your property damage recovery cannot be greater than the value of the bike. Thus, if an insurer says your used bike was only worth $100.00, they will try to cap your property damage claim at $100.00! Have a competent professional shop make an independent assessment of your bicycle and gear.
- Stay Organized. Keep every single piece of paper relating to the crash, your injuries and your recovery organized. You will need them either in handling the claim or when you meet with an attorney.
- Call an Experienced Trial Lawyer. As an Ohio trial lawyer with 27+ years of experience handling serious injury and death claims, I know how complicated these things can be. A crash can turn your life upside down as you try to get your bike fixed, get your medical bills paid and keep the collectors at bay. Once hired, I take care of EVERYTHING related to your claim. I handle all communications with the obnoxious insurance company, fully investigate the crash and obtain all documents needed to maximize your recovery. I know what types of arguments insurers usually make in bike crashes and I know how to deal with them. Send me a note or call me TODAY for a FREE CONSULTATION about your crash!
I hope you never need to implement any of these tips, but it always helps to be prepared. Good Luck and Good Riding!
The Bike Lawyer
Tonight, Thursday, November 12, will mark a new era in THE LAW in Cincinnati. There will be PRE-SGBB and POST-SGBB. November 12 is the Cincinnati Bar Association’s 2009 “Bar Idol” Cincinnati Bar Foundation 50/50 Campaign Kick Off Party…
OK… so lawyers are wordy… does this surprise you? Somebody was probably billing $400/hour to come up with that title…
The bottom line is that various lawyer MUSICAL groups will be competing for the “Bar Idol” award in front of a gallery of celebrity judges including none other than Cincinnati’s own BOOTSY COLLINS.
Included in the event are groups with some very catchy names -Attractive Nuisances… Chrissy Dunn… The Foster Grants… The Eric Steiden Quartet…
OK, so lawyers are not so hot at catchy names… does this surprise you??
But… the highlight of the evening… by far… will be the appearance of that wildest of bands…. a band that needs as many lawyer members as it can recruit… a daring band of middle-aged men and women who are not too proud to let it ALL hand out in their red Union Suits, white fur-trimmed shorts and other holiday “spirit” while marchng around playing whacked out arrangements of your holiday favorites… yes.. I’m talking about SANTA’S GOODY BAG BAND!
The Santa Band [SGBB] has been around for more than 25 years – raising money each year for Shriner’s Hospital by marching through bar after bar, restaurant after restaurant, accepting nothing but cash and free drinks while entertaining at Masses… er… not “at Masses” per se… rather entertaining “the masses” who frequent bars and restaurants – [come to think of it, these ARE one and the same….] These marching band aficionados somehow find a company to rent thema big yellow school bus and drive around town each Christmas season and their annual foray into the world.
In 2009, it’s different… it’s ON.
Reacting to a challenge from the Bar Association, SGBB decided to form an early regiment and try to WIN THIS THING. The band will be there, in force, on Novembe 12 – and so will I. [And this ringing endorsement of the band has NO relationship whatsoever to the plug the band gives my firm on its “links” page… which you can see here]
Your trumpet playing scrivener will be in his SGBB finest – I traded in my elf costume [see far left in the pic below] for some white fur tonight and will be appearing at The Blue Wisp this Thursday with the Santa Band… wailing away with the good boys and girls with the hope of becoming a Cincinnati Bar Association IDOL!
You gotta PAY to PLAY – so to speak…. so come out and VOTE for THE SANTA BAND by paying a buck, or more, to our celebrity judges!
wow… what a good looking group…
Check out the very cool Bicycle Art done by Taliah Lempert in New York City. Her Bicycle Paintings website displays her original “bike art” as well as lots of cool stuff you can buy if you don’t have several hundred bucks to spend on original bike art! She paints BIKES. Not fancy, high end, techno bikes carved out of a solid block of UnObtainium, but bikes of real people. Some very cool stuff there… see below!
You can also find some of her stuff at the Bicycle Gifts Webpage, such as prints, cards, etc. An interesting quote from this page tells you about the artist…
“Painting pictures of bicycles satisfies what I want to say. Structurally they’re beautiful and symbolically very positive. I love how a bicycle relates to the figure and I love exploring what each is specifically to the person who rides them. Many of the bikes I paint are used daily for transportation and/or for racing, some are necessary for the owner’s career. They are worn and customized in unique ways, being at once a specific bike and a collective symbol of empowerment.”
CHECK IT OUT!
Today is Veteran’s Day. A day to remember. A day to thank these guys – from the privates to the generals – for what they do, day after day, and what they’ve done and sacrificed.
Back when my dad was enlisting in the Navy three of his older brothers were already serving in World War II. Dad’s younger brother followed him into the service – making the Magas family a “Five Star” family – five young men all in the service at one time. That was big enough news to make the The Cleveland Press!
I understand that John Magas, Al Magas and George Magas all saw some pretty heavy action. My dad, Lenny Magas, and his younger brother got placed in San Diego and The Bahamas, respectively, so a decidedly different military experience than their older brothers!
For me, I’ll never take this service for granted. I’m thankful for what they do. I’m thankful all five Magas Boys came back from WWII and went on to live productive lives in the Cleveland area.
Here’s a shot of my dad, Len Magas, from his early Navy days!
Filed under: Accident Reconstruction, Bicycle Gear, Bike ART, Bike Law 101, Conspicuity, Motorcycle Gear, Statistics
BIKE LAW 101 – NUMBER CRUNCHING
NHTSA is all about numbers. They can crunch numbers like nobody’s business. If you go here you download some numbers – NHTSA’s 2007 “Traffic Safety Facts” about “Bicyclists and other Cyclists.”
As a lawyer with a math degree, I don’t run away from numbers – I LOVE ‘EM! But I also try to look realistically behind the numbers to see what they mean. I can also provide some insight as a trial lawyer who has had the opportunity to work with some outstanding accident reconstruction experts to try to piece together the How and Why of crashes.
The NHTSA numbers show a state by state breakdown of fatal cycling crashes in 2007. There were 698 cycling deaths in the U.S. in 2007 according to NHTSA and a total of 41,059 traffic fatalities. Cyclists accounted for 1.7% of all killed on U.S. roadways in 2007.
The states with the highest number of cycling fatalities for 2007 are consistently the states with the highest number of cycling fatalities year after year. They are generally “clustered” as they are in 2007 as follows:
1. FLORIDA 
2. CALIFORNIA 
Then a cluster of lower numbers:
3. NEW YORK 
4. TEXAS 
These four states accounted for 327 of the 698 cycling fatalities in 2007 – or 47%! Curiously, 3 of the big 4 also led the way in Total Traffic Fatalities. Can you guess which 3?
Well, CA was first , followed by Texas  and Florida . New York  was in a cluster of states with 1000-1500 deaths including AZ , AL , GA, IL , MI , NC , OH , PA , SC , TN , and WA .
What is it about New York that makes it so much more dangerous for cyclists but not so much for motorists? Well, my unresearched view would be that big cities are more dangerous for cyclists than motorists. A 20 mph collision between two 4000 pound vehicles is unlikely to kill either vehicle operator. A 20 mph collision between a car and bike is far more likely to kill the bicycle operator. New York City is a unique breeding ground for low speed crashes, aggressive cyclists and frustrated motorists. It’s not surprising to me that the cycling deaths are high while the overall number of traffic fatalities is consistent with other midwestern states.
After The Big Four, another cluster of four states appears.
LA , AZ , PA, SC 
So now, 8 states account for almost 60% of all bicycle fatalities. The other 42 states account for the remaining 40%.
The next cluster is states with 15-20 fatalities. These include:
IL , NC , OH , MI , GA , IN .
For “safe” states, I guess you go to Delaware, North or South Dakota, Vermont or Wyoming – each had NO cycling fatalities in 2007. Alaska, Washington D.C., Maine, Nebraska, Rhode Island and West Virginia each had 1 death.
Conclusions? I’m not there yet, but the numbers are interesting. To me, they say that cycling on the roadway is FAR MORE SAFE than “people” think, especially if you avoid The Big Four. It would be interesting to look further into the numbers for The Big Four and see if there are trends pointing towards a disproportionately high number of cycling fatalities in the urban vs. rural areas.
Good Luck and Good Riding