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Office is not Entitled to Summary Judgment on Qualified Immunity After using a Taser Ten (10) Times

Meyers v. Baltimore County, Maryland
Case No.: 11-2192 (4th Cir. February 1, 2013)

by Gregory L. Arbogast, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In Meyers v. Baltimore County, Maryland, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the United States District Court for the District of Maryland and held than an officer who tased a suspect ten (10) times was not entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the District Court.

Meyers arose out of a domestic altercation in which Ryan Myers (“Ryan”) apparently attacked members of his family. Ryan was a forty-year-old man with bipolar disorder. He lived with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan, and his brother, William Meyers, Jr., (“William”). On the evening of March 16, 2007, Mrs. Meyers placed a 911 call and said that her two (2) sons were engaged in a fight. There was also screaming in the background. Apparently, William had walked into the home and heard his mother screaming and saying that Ryan was hurting her. William punched Ryan and a fistfight ensued.

When the police arrived at the scene, Mr. Meyers and William were in the front yard and Mr. Meyers had a laceration on his face. Mr. Meyers and William informed the police that Mrs. Meyers had left the scene until it was safe to return. Ryan was in the house and the police could see that he was pacing back and forth with a baseball bat.

The officers on the scene attempted to coax Ryan to put down the weapon and exit the home, but he refused. Therefore, they called Officer Mee to the scene, who was authorized to use a taser. William allowed the officers access into the home with his key.

When the officers entered the home, Ryan approached them with the baseball bat. Officer Mee tased Ryan, but he did not drop the bat. Therefore, he tased Ryan again. That time, Ryan dropped the bat, but he continued to advance towards the officers. Officer Mee tased Ryan a third time before he dropped to the ground. The officers then attempted to arrest Ryan. According to William’s testimony, Ryan did not resist arrest at the time that he was on the ground. Nevertheless, Officer Mee tased Ryan seven (7) more times. Ryan died as a result of the electric shocks from the taser.

Ryan’s family and his estate sued all of the officers at the scene. The United States District Court granted summary judgment in favor of all of the officers on the grounds of qualified immunity. An officer, however, is not entitled to qualified immunity if the officer knew and appreciated that the officer was performing an act which deprived an individual of his/her constitutional rights. The District Court did not find that any of the officers knew and appreciated that they were depriving Ryan of his constitutional rights and dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims.

The Fourth Circuit addressed whether the officers were entitled to summary judgment. The Court found that the officers had probable cause to enter the house and to arrest Ryan. It was clear from Mr. Meyers’s laceration and Mrs. Meyers’s 911 call that a fight had ensued. Additionally, Ryan was pacing in the house with a weapon. The Fourth Circuit also found that the first three (3) uses of the taser could not qualify as excessive force because the undisputed testimony was that Ryan was still advancing towards the officers. The Fourth Circuit found, however, that a jury could reasonably find that the next seven (7) uses of the taser qualified as excessive force. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit held that Officer Mee was not entitled to summary judgment.


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