When are Las Vegas police allowed to use stun guns?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Sep 04, 2018 | 0 Comments

Officers of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) are allowed to resort to stun guns if it is reasonable. As an "intermediate force" level weapon, stun guns are useful for subduing suspects but only when necessary.[1]

Stun guns are an electroshock weapon that causes suspect to freeze on contact. They are similar to tasers, except that tasers can shock from a distance of several feet.

Reasonable use of stun guns

Law enforcement should take into account the following factors when deliberating over whether using a stun gun is warranted:

  • if the suspect is resisting arrest or tries to run away;
  • if the suspect presents an imminent danger to others; and
  • the seriousness of the alleged criminal's offense (however, using a stun gun may still be a reasonable use of force if the offense was minor but the suspect is behaving in a hostile way)

The police should always try to give a verbal admonishment to suspects prior to unleashing the stun gun in an effort to avoid having to use the stun gun at all.

Excessive use of stun guns

Police are instructed to resort to stun guns as infrequently as possible. And if they do use a stun gun, they are instructed to stop as soon as the suspect is subdued. Repeated uses of a stun gun may be reasonable only if the suspect continues to present a threat.

Even though stun guns are not deadly weapons in and of themselves, they can turn deadly -- or at least injurious -- to victims who sustain repeated shocks one right after another. Furthermore, people are more likely to sustain serious injuries or even death from stun guns if they have certain medical conditions -- such as obesity or an addiction.

Jones v. LVMPD

Recently, the Ninth Circuit in Jones v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said that the officers were justified in their initial single tasing of the suspect Mr. Jones in order to subdue him: Even though Mr. Jones did not post a threat, he was fleeing a traffic stop, and a single taser shock was a reasonable non-deadly way to capture him. 

However, the Ninth Circuit disapproved of the officers' continued tasing of Mr. Jones once he was restrained by handcuffs and surrounded by police. Since Mr. Jones was no longer a danger, the repeated taser use was unnecessary and even dangerous. Mr. Jones eventual death may have been caused by the tasing's effect on his body, which was overweight.[2]

Ultimately, the LVMPD and Mr. Jones' family agreed to a half-million dollar settlement. Following this case, LVMPD officers will limit its taser usage to three 5-second cycles. Furthermore, more than one officer may not tase a single suspect at the same time.[3]

Read our article about police misconduct in Nevada. Victims of excessive use of stun guns by law enforcement may be able to file a civil tort lawsuit and/or a Section 1983 lawsuit in Nevada.

Legal References:

  1. See Bryan v. MacPherson, 630 F.3d 805, 826 (9th Cir. 2010).
  2. See Jones v. Las Vegas Metro Police Dep't., 873 F.3d 1123 (9th Cir. 2017).
  3. See Blake Apgar, Las Vegas police paying $500K to settle stun gun death case, Las Vegas Review-Journal (July 25, 2018).

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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