In the latest taser outrage, Edward Casey, who left a courthouse briefly to retrieve money to pay a fine, was tackled and repeatedly tasered by police. What is truly amazing is that U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn did not feel that this was a viable claim of police abuse. Fortunately, the Tenth Circuit did not agree.
Here is how the Tenth Circuit described the facts:
Mr. Casey unsuccessfully challenged a traffic ticket at the Federal Heights courthouse on August 25, 2003. He told the judge that he wanted to appeal, and the judge gave him his court file and told him to take it to the cashier’s window along with his money. Because Mr. Casey had left his money in his truck, he sent his daughter to the restroom and headed for the parking lot. A person later identified as the court clerk—although Mr. Casey says that at the time he did not know who she was—told him not to remove the file from the building. He replied that his daughter (who was eight years old) was in the bathroom and he would be right back.
Mr. Casey left the building still holding his file, which may have been a misdemeanor under Colorado law.Officer Kevin Sweet learned from the clerk that Mr. Casey had taken the file into the parking lot and moved to intercept him as he returned. By this time Mr. Casey had been to his truck, obtained his money to pay the fine, and was returning to the courthouse.
Officer Sweet accosted him and told him to return to his truck. Mr. Casey explained that he needed to get back to the courthouse to return the file and attend to his daughter. Officer Sweet then asked Mr. Casey for the file, and Mr. Casey held out his briefcase with the file “clearly visible . . . in an outside pocket.” Officer Sweet did not take the file, so Mr. Casey moved around him to take the file to the cashier. Without further explanation or discussion, Officer Sweet then grabbed Mr. Casey’s arm and put it in a painful arm-lock. Confused, Mr. Casey moved his arm without breaking the officer’s grip and started to walk to the courthouse with the file. Officer Sweet then jumped on Mr. Casey’s back. Mr. Casey’s shirt was ripped in the process.
Mr. Casey did not understand why Officer Sweet was tackling him and asked, “What are you doing?” Officer Sweet never told him that he was under arrest, and never advised him to stop resisting. At that point, Officer Malee Lor arrived in her patrol car. Concluding that Mr. Casey “needed to be controlled,” she fired her M26 Taser at him. This Taser model shoots wire-attached hooks and can deliver a shock for up to five seconds. Both of these hooks attached to Mr. Casey. There is conflicting testimony on how quickly Officer Lor fired. One independent eyewitness testified that “[s]he wasn’t there longer than a couple seconds.” Another testified that Officer Lor was there for a minute at the most, and a third that it was “no more than twenty seconds” before she fired. Officer Lor testified that she spent two or three minutes watching the conflict before firing.
Mr. Casey disengaged the Taser wires, later testifying that “all [he] could think of was making that electricity stop,” all the while asking the officers what they were doing. Shortly thereafter, several other officers arrived on the scene. According to the witnesses, the officers brought Mr. Casey to the ground, handcuffed him tightly, and repeatedly banged his face into the concrete. After Mr. Casey was on the ground, one of the officers, Clint Losli, also Tasered him by pressing the electrical barbs at the end of the Taser directly into him without launching them. Officer Lor discharged her Taser again and shocked another officer, Jim Wright; Officer Sweet then told her to “put the thing away.”
What is most striking about this account is that at least three taser shots were fired despite overwhelming police presence at one point. Officer Lor was so incompetent that she actually hit another officer. Moreover, there is a very disturbing conflict between what eyewitnesses recalled and Officer Lor’s testimony.
As for Officer “Sweet,” his decision to use force is baffling on these facts. However, putting aside these observations (which have all been read to the advantage of Mr. Casey under appellate rules given the dismissal of his case), it is unbelievable that a judge would dismiss the charges without trial. This is precisely why officers abuse such technology because judges will blindly ignore credible claims.
The jurist responsible for this bizarre ruling is Judge Robert E. Blackburn, an appointed of President George W. Bush. It is a mystery how Blackburn could have looked at these facts, read those facts in the light most favored to the non-moving party, and found no viable legal claim. I had to learn more about Blackburn who was a state judge before being elevated to the federal bench:
Blackburn, Robert E.
Born 1950 in Lakewood, CO
Federal Judicial Service:
Judge, U. S. District Court, District of Colorado
Nominated by George W. Bush on September 10, 2001, to a seat vacated by Zita L. Weinshienk; Confirmed by the Senate on February 26, 2002, and received commission on March 6, 2002.
Western State College, B.A., 1972
University of Colorado Law School, J.D., 1974
Law clerk, Private practice, Colorado, 1975
Private practice, Las Animas, Colorado, 1975-1980
Deputy district attorney, Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Colorado, 1980-1986
County attorney, Bent County, Colorado, 1980-1988
Municipal judge, Town of Kim, Colorado, 1985-1988
Judge, Sixteenth Judicial District of Colorado, 1988-2002
For the Tenth Circuit opinion, click here