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When are police in Las Vegas allowed to use tasers?
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officers are permitted to use tasers (an electroshock weapon) when it would be reasonable under the circumstances. The Ninth Circuit has held that tasers qualify as “intermediate force.” This is below deadly force. Therefore, tasers are supposed to be used to subdue but not seriously injure or kill suspects.
When tasing is reasonable
Factors police should consider when deciding whether taser use is reasonable include:
the severity of the arrestee’s crime (though tasing can still be reasonable if the crime was minor but the suspect is being hostile),
if the suspect poses an imminent threat to officers or others, and
if the suspect physically resists arrest or tries to evade capture
Below are examples of circumstances where a single taser use to subdue a suspect would probably be justified in Nevada:
a suspect is running away from the scene of the alleged crime, even if it is just a traffic stop;
a suspect refuses to show his/her hands and threatens to hurt the officer;
a suspect is being uncooperative and refusing to comply with police instructions, such as defying a police order to stand still or stay down;
a suspect is being combative and threatening to hit or kill the officer or someone else; or
a suspect is pointing a gun, knife, or other dangerous weapon at the officer or someone else
In short, tasing is reasonable if the suspect poses an immediate threat to safety or is actively resisting. Ideally, officers should warn suspects beforehand that they may get tased if they do not follow instructions; this may be enough to deter the suspects from resisting further.
When tasing is excessive
Even though taser use may be reasonable in the above scenarios, police are still supposed to use tasers as sparingly as possible and to stop once tasers are no longer necessary. Multiple tasing is justified only when the suspect is still posing a threat after the previous tasing.
And despite that tasers are not considered deadly force, tasers can become deadly or very dangerous if police tase someone multiple times in quick succession. And this health risk increases if the suspect is overweight or a substance-abuser.
Courts typically do not approve of taser use on suspects who:
have been subdued or physically restrained, such as with handcuffs,
committed such a minor offense that probably would not justify getting a citation,
pose little-to-no safety threat to others,
are being compliant, or
are unconscious or asleep
In the recent the Ninth Circuit case Jones v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the court approved of the officer’s initial use of a taser to subdue the suspect Mr. Jones. In this case, Mr. Jones fled from a traffic stop. Since he did not threaten anyone’s safety or commit a serious crime, the officer determined that deadly force was unnecessary. Therefore, the officer elected to tase Mr. Jones to subdue him.
However, LVMPD officers continued to tase him even after Mr. Jones was handcuffed and was surrounded by officers. The Court suggested that this continued taser use was excessive since Mr. Jones no longer posed a threat. Furthermore, the repeated tasing may have been dangerous since Mr. Jones was overweight. Mr. Jones ultimately died.
As part of a settlement, the LVMPD agreed to pay a half-million dollars to Mr. Jones’s mother. The LVMPD now limits its officers from using tasers for more than three 5-second cycles. Additionally, multiple officers may not use tasers on a suspect simultaneously.
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, 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.