The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Maui Police Department officers used excessive force in “Tasing” a woman who had called MPD for help with a domestic dispute. The Court similarly ruled that Seattle police used unconstitutionally excessive force by using a Taser on a pregnant woman whose crime was refusing to sign a speeding ticket. The Court ruled that Tasers constitute “intermediate” force and that Taser use was improper (under the plaintiffs’ version of events) because the two women posed no threat to any of the police officers. The ACLU of Hawaii and the ACLU of Washington State submitted two amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) letters; the ACLU’s letters, and the Court’s decision, are below.
The Court ultimately ruled that neither the Maui woman (represented by local defense attorney Eric Seitz) nor the Seattle woman could recover damages for the police officers’ unlawful actions, because the law was not clear at the time that Taser use was improper under the circumstances. While we disagree with this result, this ruling sets clear guidelines that prevent the police from using Tasers unless someone’s safety is in danger; this is an important legal clarification limiting the use of Tasers by law enforcement, and a timely ruling in advance of next month’s APEC Conference.