WASHINGTON Oct 3 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday let stand a lower court's ruling that police use of a
Taser amounted to unconstitutional excessive force in a case
involving a mentally ill man who died after being stunned with
the electrical weapon five times in two minutes.
The justices declined to hear an appeal by the North
Carolina village of Pinehurst of a January federal appeals court
ruling that police can use a Taser only if officers are in
The village was sued by the family of Ronald Armstrong, a
man with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia who died in
April 2011 after a confrontation with police.
The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals found the officers used excessive force in violation of
the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which prohibits
unreasonable searches and seizures.
The court nevertheless ruled that the officers were entitled
to legal immunity because they did not violate clearly
established law. But the precedent set could have broad
ramifications in North Carolina and four other states within the
regional appeals court's jurisdiction if left in place,
prompting the village to appeal.
Other appeals courts have ruled differently regarding these
weapons, with most finding that police officers have more leeway
to use Tasers even when there is not an imminent threat.
Taser International Inc, which manufactures the
devices, filed a brief asking the high court to hear the case.
A Taser is a device intended to serve as a non-lethal method
of control for law enforcement officers to restrain dangerous
people but in some cases the electrical shock can cause death.
Armstrong was not taking his prescribed medication at the
time of the incident that led to his death. Police were called
when he was seen walking on a road outside a local hospital.
After two officers spoke to him, he wrapped his arms and legs
around a pole and refused to move, leading one of the officers
to use his Taser, which was set to "stun" mode.
It appeared to have no apparent immediate effect on
Armstrong, but he died after eventually being pulled away from
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)