Seventh Circuit Grants Police Officer Qualified Immunity for Taser Use on Active Resister

December 21, 2018

Plaintiff Patrick Dockery filed suit against two City of Joliet police officers after he was tased four times during his booking on charges of trespass and criminal damage to property. Two videos were entered into evidence: the security camera footage from the booking room and the Taser’s camera’s black-and-white footage and audio. Summary judgment was denied to the defendant officers by the District Court on Dockery’s excessive force claim, and the officers appealed. The Seventh Circuit Appellate Court first determined that it had jurisdiction to consider the officers’ qualified immunity defense because the constitutional question – whether the deployment of the Taser was a reasonable use of force under the circumstances – is an objective inquiry that turns on how a reasonable officer would have perceived the circumstances. Since Dockery’s version of the facts were discredited by the video evidence, the Court could consider the objective inquiry of the officers’ qualified immunity claim.

Turning to whether the officers’ actions violated a clearly established constitutional right (the cornerstone of a qualified immunity analysis), the Court relied on the video and audio footage to determine that the use of the Taser was objectively reasonable in these circumstances and therefore the officers’ actions did not violate a clearly established right. The video footage showed Dockery being uncooperative when the defendant officers attempted to handcuff him at the police station during his booking and Dockery twice pulled away before the first Taser deployment. The Court further found that the three subsequent Taser usages were also objectively reasonable because the video showed that Dockery continued to be combative and resisted the officers by flipping over, kicking at the officers, pulling the Taser prong out of his arm, and ignoring the officers’ commands to “get on the ground.” Importantly, the Court found that Dockery’s stated intentions for his actions (lost his balance, fell over from the pain of the handcuffs and reacted to the shock of being tased) was irrelevant to the inquiry of whether the officers’ actions were reasonable.

Mike Bersani and David Mathues represented the defendant officers.

Dockery v. Blackburn

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