A Coronado, Calif., police officer used excessive force when he shot a Taser dart at a young driver who was stopped for a seat belt violation, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. The motorist, Carl Bryan, then 21, fell to the asphalt after being struck by the dart, breaking four teeth and suffering facial cuts, reports the Los Angeles Times. He later sued the Coronado Police Department and Officer Brian MacPherson. The excessive-force ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could have consequences for police use-of-force policies across the West, legal experts predicted.
Two other lawsuits over Taser incidents are still pending before the appeals court, including a case in which a pregnant woman in Seattle was subjected to the device in a routine traffic stop. Police must have reasonable grounds for using a Taser on a suspect, the appeals panel said, noting that Bryan was wearing only boxer shorts and tennis shoes and was clearly unarmed. The appeals panel, while deeming the Taser use excessive and unjustified, said the officer nonetheless deserved immunity from prosecution because the circumstances in which the weapon could be reasonably deployed weren’t clearly defined at the time.