NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Five New Orleans police officers who Tasered and shot a suicidal man to death were not acting unreasonably, a federal judge ruled, sending the family's claims to state court.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance granted the officers summary judgment.
Vance found Officers Eric Geisler, James Kish, Stephen McGee, Jonathan Parker and Stuart Smith entitled to qualified immunity because the "'reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.'"
Plaintiff Tyralyn Harris called 911 in April 2010 for help after her suicidal ex-husband Brian Harris locked himself in their bedroom and told her to take their two children out of the house.
Harris suspected her ex might have taken sleeping pills to end his life.
In the 911 transcript, Harris tells the dispatcher her husband has barricaded himself in a room. "I don't think he want to live no more. I need somebody to come help him," she says.
Harris tells the dispatcher her husband, with whom she had reconciled, doesn't have guns but might have a knife.
"They need to send an ambulance, too, or somebody," she says. "They need to bring him to the hospital because something's wrong with him."
When the officers arrived, Tyralyn Harris and her two children were standing outside the house.
"Tyralyn Harris told them that Mr. Harris was depressed after recently losing his job, that he had locked himself inside their bedroom, that she believed he may have taken an overdose of sleeping pills ... . She expressed concern for the well-being of her former husband but did not express fear for her own, or the children's health or safety," Judge Vance wrote.
Video captured by the Tasers shows the scene before the officers entered the room and after.
Outside the door, "One of the officers, presumably Sergeant Smith, said, 'Come here, I want one gun and one Taser right here,'" the judge wrote.
The video shows the officers forcing the door open, calling out "Brian" and then entering the room.
"Once they entered the room, the officers began yelling 'let me see your hands.' The officers did not verbally identify themselves as police to Mr. Harris, but they were wearing police uniforms," the order states.
Video shows that Harris was in bed with the covers pulled up and not moving. After Harris failed to respond, Officer McGee removed the blanket. Harris was holding a folded knife.
The officers repeatedly yelled for Harris to put the knife down. He told them: "It's not coming down."
The video shows Harris lying in bed and waving his arms around. When he refused to drop the knife, Sgt. Smith ordered Officer Kish to "Tase him."
Kish shot the Taser at Harris but didn't hit him.
A second Taser video lasts 6 seconds and shows Harris standing up while Officer Parker uses a Taser on him.
"Mr. Harris appears agitated and defiant. Officer Parker's Taser attempt apparently failed to work because Mr. Harris did not become incapacitated. Mr. Harris lifted his right hand, holding the knife above his right shoulder in a stabbing position. An officer yelled 'Drop the knife!' Mr. Harris responded, 'I'm not dropping nothing,'" Judge Vance wrote.