(CN) - The 4th Circuit revived claims that a Baltimore police officer killed a man by using his Taser 10 times while responding to a domestic violence call in 2007.
Baltimore County police had responded to the Meyers home on March 16, 2007, to break up a fight between Ryan Meyers and his brother William. During the 911 call, their mother, Anna Mae Meyers, became unresponsive, and the operator later said she heard "screaming in the background."
The first two responding officers, Vincent Romeo and Karen Gaedke, found William Meyers Jr. and his father, William Meyers Sr., outside the home. The younger male was visibly bleeding from his nose; both men said Mrs. Meyers had fled and would not return until officers had removed Ryan from the premises.
Ryan Meyers could be seen pacing back and forth inside the house, carrying a baseball bat. The officers tried to convince Ryan to surrender peacefully, but he rebuffed these efforts.
When Officer Stephen Mee arrived, the police entered the house. Mee ordered Ryan to drop the bat and quickly deployed his Taser.
Mee initially administered three Taser shocks, the second forcing Meyers to drop the bat, and the third stopping him from advancing toward the officers.
Once Meyers was down, however, Mee used his Taser an additional seven times, ultimately killing the 40-year-old Ryan Meyers, who had struggled with bipolar disorder for most of his life.
The Meyers family sued, claiming the violations of the Fourth Amendment and certain provisions of Maryland law.
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit said a federal judge granted Officers Romeo, Gaedke and Mee qualified immunity and summary judgment, despite recognizing that "the seven additional Taser shocks were inappropriate."
The Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court said the Meyers should be allowed to advance their claims against Mee.
It noted that the facts justify the first three uses of the Taser.
"During the period that Officer Mee administered the first three Taser shocks, Ryan was acting erratically, was holding a baseball bat that he did not relinquish until after he received the second shock, and was advancing toward the officers until the third shock caused him to fall to the ground," Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote for the panel. "Under these circumstances, Ryan posed an immediate threat to the officers' safety, and was actively resisting arrest."
The Meyers do have a case as to the subsequent seven firings of the Taser.
"It is an excessive and unreasonable use of force for a police officer repeatedly to administer electrical shocks with a Taser on an individual who no longer is armed, has been brought to the ground, has been restrained physically by several other officers, and no longer is actively resisting arrest," Keenan wrote.
"Based on the present record, because Ryan did not pose a threat to the officers' safety and was not actively resisting arrest, a reasonable officer in Officer Mee's position would have understood that his delivery of some, if not all, of the seven additional Taser shocks violated Ryan's Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive and unreasonable force," she added. "Accordingly, we hold that the District Court erred in concluding that Officer Mee met his burden of proving that he was entitled to qualified immunity."
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