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ALASKA SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS TASER DECISION

ALASKA SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS TASER DECISION

In a recent opinion, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a Bethel Superior Court's prior decision to throw out a lawsuit against the City of Hooper Bay and a couple of its police officers. Michele Power and Sean Brown, attorneys for Thomas Olson, brought the lawsuit on behalf of Olson in 2007 after Hooper Bay officers tasered him between 15 and 18 times while he was handcuffed. Apparently, Olson had consumed alcohol on the night this occurred and the officers were in the Olson home to check on the welfare of the Olson children. Initially, the officers entered the Olson home and found everyone asleep except a child who responded to the officer's knocking on the residence door. The lawsuit alleged that given the circumstances of this case the officers' conduct was excessive and outrageous. Myron Angstman and Bill Ingaldson represent the City of Hooper Bay and the officers.

In its decision, the Alaska Supreme Court divided a five-minute period of police contact with Olson into four phases. It found that the first two phases of the incident were lawful. Phase One involved that handcuffing of Olson after he was awakened from his sleep and Phase Two involved tasering Olson after he wrapped his legs around a support pole in the residence.

However, the Court found that thereafter the nature of the officer's conduct may have put the officers on notice that the force they used became excessive at some point. In Phase Three, the officers continued to taser Olson in rapid succession over the course of approximately 50 seconds. In Phase Four, the officers rolled the handcuffed Olson onto his stomach and tasered him again and again. In all, Olson was tasered between 15 and 18 times.

In its written opinion, the court noted that the "officers tased Olson at least fifteen to eighteen times; some of these tases occurred after Olson was handcuffed, on his stomach, and under the control of the freely mobile police officers." The Court held that "the nature of the officers' actions, alone, [may provide] notice that the force they used became excessive at some point in the sequence of events."

Brown stated that "the officers were in the Olson residence only to conduct a welfare check and everyone but the child who responded to the officer's knocking was asleep when the officers entered the home." According to Power, Mr. Olson's conduct that night was not perfect. "But such conduct does not give officers the right to inflict what some might view as torture on a suspect." The case will now be set for trial in Bethel.

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