Law enforcement are the country’s first line of defense, so it is important to appreciate their line of work and understand the dangers they face on a day to day basis. For this reason, they are legally trained and equipped to carry and use a wide variety of lethal and nonlethal weapons, including guns, knives, batons, and Tasers. Although they are permitted to use these weapons at their discretion, it doesn’t give them the right to abuse or overuse their power.
In the case of nonlethal weapons, this has come up quite a bit in the recent years. People want to know what happens when a cop excessively uses their non-lethal weapon. Is it still lawful? Are there consequences for the police officer? Does the defendant have rights?
Peru City Police Department v. Martin
Every situation involving the actions, behaviors, and protocols of law enforcement’s action varies greatly, and should always be assessed on the individual facts surrounding the case. For example, take a look at the case of “Peru City Police Department v. Martin”.
In the lawsuit, after an officer repeatedly employed a Taser on an elderly nursing home patient suffering from Alzheimer’s, Peru Police Chief Steve Hoover recommended dismissal of Officer Martin for excessive use of force and conduct unbecoming of an officer. The City of Peru Board of Public Works and Safety conducted a hearing and agreed with Chief Hoover; Officer Martin was discharged and sought review in the trial court.
The court of appeals reviews the decision of a municipal safety board like a decision of an administrative agency, “limited to whether the [board] decision rests upon substantial evidence, whether the decision was arbitrary and capricious, and whether it was contrary to any constitutional, statutory, or legal principle.” The trial court tossed out his firing and entered over one hundred “reasons that Board’s decision should not be affirmed.” However, the appellate panel disagreed, finding the trial court erred in substituting its own judgment for that of the police chief and board.
The panel focused its analysis on the Taser training Officer Martin underwent as part of his role as an officer. He had been specifically instructed that exposure for over 15 seconds, whether due to multiple applications or a continuous one, increased the risk of death or serious injury. In total, the nursing home patient was exposed for 31 seconds. The panel concluded, “Substantial evidence supports the Board’s findings, and its decision to terminate Martin for use of excessive force and conduct unbecoming of an officer was not arbitrary and capricious.”