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Media Alerts - Meyers v. Baltimore County, Maryland - Fourth Circuit
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March 18, 2013
  Meyers v. Baltimore County, Maryland - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Police Officer May Be Sued for Tasing Man Ten Times Until He Dies

Area of Law: Constitutional Law

Issue Presented: Whether police officers are immune from liability stemming from the repeated tasing of a man they were attempting to arrest.

Brief Summary: The parents of Ryan Meyers, a bipolar man who died after a police officer tased him ten times, filed a lawsuit alleging that the officer and his colleagues used unreasonable and excessive force in violation of their son's Fourth Amendment rights. The officers claimed they were shielded from liability for their conduct under the doctrine of qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit found that the tasing officer was not entitled to qualified immunity for the final seven shocks he administered, as those rose to the level of unreasonable and excessive force, in violation of Meyers's clearly established rights.

Extended Summary: Ryan Meyers, a man with bipolar disorder, got into a fight with his brother at the family home. His mother called the police to report the fight, and Baltimore County Police Department officers were dispatched to the home. Concluding that Meyers, wielding a baseball bat inside the house, posed a threat to their safety, they requested that Officer Mee, trained to use a taser, be sent as well to assist in effecting an arrest. After entering the house and ordering Meyers to drop the bat, Mee deployed the taser. After the first shock, Meyers still wielded the bat. After the second, he dropped the bat but remained standing. After the third, he fell to the ground, and three officers sat on his back. Mee then administered seven additional shocks with the taser. Meyers died as a result.

Meyers's parents, as personal representatives of his estate, filed suit against the officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They asserted that the officers used unreasonable and excessive force in their attempt to arrest Meyers, in violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure. The officers moved for summary judgment, contending they were immune from suit under the doctrine of qualified immunity. That doctrine shields government officials from liability for their actions so long as they do not violate a "clearly established" constitutional right. The District Court for the District of Maryland found that the officers were protected by qualified immunity.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit first rejected Meyers's parents' argument that none of the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they attempted to arrest him without probable cause. The court then addressed the parents' argument that Mee's use of the taser constituted unreasonable and excessive force. The court found that the first three deployments of the taser were reasonable, because Meyers was actively resisting arrest and represented a threat of the officers' safety in wielding a weapon and advancing toward the officers. However, with respect to the subsequent seven taser shocks, Mee was not entitled to qualified immunity. The justification for the use of force was eliminated after Meyers dropped the bat and fell to the ground, and so the further administration of shocks was a violation of Meyers's Fourth Amendment rights. The court declared that a reasonable person in Mee's position should have appreciated that this conduct would constitute such a violation. Even if no court has explicitly recognized a specific right for qualified immunity purposes, an officer can be on notice that his actions amount to excessive force - though the force may emanate from a taser rather than a more "traditional" device.

To read the full opinion, please visit

Panel: Judges Shedd, Keenan, and Wynn

Argument: 12/05/12

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/01/13

Docket Number: 11-2192

Decided: Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Case Alert Author: Claire Caplan

Counsel: ARGUED: Gregory L. Lattimer, LAW OFFICES OF GREGORY L. LATTIMER, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. Paul M. Mayhew, BALTIMORE COUNTY OFFICE OF LAW, Towson, Maryland, for appellees. ON BRIEF: Ted J. Williams, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. Michael E. Field, County Attorney, BALTIMORE COUNTY OFFICE OF LAW, Towson, Maryland, for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Keenan, J.

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 03/18/2013 12:36 PM     4th Circuit  

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