Not OK to Taser Passive Bystanders

A divided federal appeals court reinstated an excessive force suit Friday saying an officer cannot assume it is constitutionally ok to taser a passive bystander who failed to comply immediately with an order to move away from the scene of a neighbor’s arrest.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by 2-1 vote, revived the excessive force claim by Donald Gravelet-Blondin in Snohomish, Washington, after holding not only was there a potential constitutional violation but the officers involved may be held liable for it.

Two officers were sent to a call of a suicide in progress and found an elderly man, identified as Jack, in his parked car with an exhaust pipe in the car window.  They were also warned the man might have a gun.  They convinced Jack to get out of his car but he failed to show his hands as instructed and was tased, fell to the ground and officers attempted to restrain him and tased him a second time.

Meanwhile Blondin and his wife heard the commotion next door and went out to investigate, with Blondin asking deputies what they were doing to Jack, who was on the ground groaning.

Although 37 feet away from the officers, Blondin was commanded to “get back” and although he took two steps back, Sgt. Jeff Shelton rushed at Blondin with his taser raised.  Blondin allegedly froze and Shelton fired, according to a neighbor’s account.

Shelton then threatened Blondin’s wife she would be next if she didn’t move away.

Blondin was treated by paramedics and charged with obstructing a police officer, a charge later dropped.

“There was no reason to believe, based on Blondin’s behavior, demeanor, and distance from the officers, that he posed an immediate threat to anyone’s safety,” said Judge Michael Daly Hawkins.

In dissent, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, said the majority failed to see the scene through they “eyes of a reasonable officer.”

“Blondin interjected himself into a rapidly-evolving, highly volatile scene:  officers struggling to restrain a combative, armed man in the process of trying to take his own life.”

She accused the majority of minimizing the precariousness of the situation.

Case:   Gravelet-Blondin v. Shelton, No. 12-35121




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