With the Supreme Court deciding Tuesday that it will not review the appropriateness of stun gun use by police on suspects, attorneys are anticipating a trial in U.S. District Court in Honolulu in the case of a Wailuku woman who sued police after being Tased by a police officer responding to a domestic disturbance at her home.
Maui County and Seattle police had sought the high court review, following a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion last year that the officers in the Maui case and a Seattle case weren't liable for damages "because the law was not clearly established at the time of the incidents." But judges also said officers used excessive force by using stun guns.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey said that the county was disappointed the Supreme Court didn't take up the case to provide more guidance in Taser use for officers, a request backed by other law enforcement agencies in friend-of-the-court briefs.
"It was a long shot, but I was hopeful that they would address it and put some end to the differences in the way Tasers are viewed in our country," Lutey said. "There was a lot of support from various law enforcement agencies across the continental United States."
In the Seattle case, Malaika Brooks was driving her son to school in 2004 when she was stopped for speeding. Officers used a Taser three times when the woman, who was seven months pregnant, refused to get out of her car.
In the Maui case, Jayzel Mattos and her husband, Troy Mattos, sued Maui County and four police officers who went to the couple's home after 11 p.m. Aug. 23, 2006, in response to a 911 call reporting a domestic disturbance.
The call from Jayzel Mattos' 14-year-old daughter reported that things were being thrown around in a fight.
Jayzel Mattos was in her house, with police saying she interfered with the arrest of her husband when she was Tased.
Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, representing the Mattoses, said the Supreme Court decision not to hear the case "really doesn't make any difference one way or another."
"Our case will now go back to the District Court to go to trial," he said. "We have other claims against the county for violation of our client's civil rights. The court of appeals indicated there was a violation of their civil rights. We just can't collect money individually from the police officers.
"The court decided the constitutional issues in our favor. We were happy with that."
If the Supreme Court had decided to hear the case, Seitz said his clients wanted the court to also take up the issue of qualified immunity for police officers.
"The Supreme Court has indicated, by declining to review this, that they can live with what the 9th Circuit has done so far," Seitz said. "The only negative aspect was it didn't hold the police officers accountable, even though we think they knew or should have known better what was permissible."
Lutey said Maui police guidelines for Taser use haven't changed since the ruling.
"We have always trained in accordance with the law," Lutey said. "We always mirror the law."