MANHATTAN (CN) – Extinguishing claims by a couple whose deaf son was tased at a school, the Second Circuit ruled Friday that the police officer who deployed the weapon is entitled to immunity.
The confrontation at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut, erupted over five years ago when A.M., 12, got into an argument with his teacher and run from his dorm.
A.M.’s teacher followed the boy to the construction site on campus but eventually retreated after A.M. struck him with a stick and threw rocks at him.
As noted in the ruling, A.M. was still holding a large rock when West Hartford officers Paul Gionfriddo and Christopher Lyth responded to the dean’s call for police assistance.
Though A.M.’s parents argued that Gionfriddo tasered A.M. without warning, despite knowing the boy was deaf, the officer said he reasonably believed that staff members were using sign language to translate his verbal warnings.
U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton had denied the officer summary judgment, ruling that a jury should settle the credibility dispute about what Gionfriddo believed, but the Second Circuit reversed Friday.
“Gionfriddo is entitled to qualified immunity because it was objectively reasonable for him to believe that, given the undisputed facts, his conduct complied with this clearly established law,” U.S. Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for a three-person panel.
The ruling notes that Gionfriddo was warned at the scene about A.M.’s violence against the staff.
“Gionfriddo therefore had a reasonable basis to believe that A.M. posed a threat to himself or the other staff members and that there was a risk of further flight over the terrain of a construction site,” the opinion states.
Jacobs also called it reasonable for the officer to believe that his instructions and warnings were being conveyed to A.M. and that A.M. was ignoring them.
The intermediary signers were a teacher and a dean at a school for the deaf, who could be counted upon to communicate with a deaf student, according to the decision.
When A.M. did not comply, Gionfriddo verbally warned A.M. that he would use the taser if A.M. did not put down the rock, and Gionfriddo again observed the dean signing to the teacher, who signed to A.M.
It was only then — when it appeared to Gionfriddo that A.M. was ignoring his instructions — that Gionfriddo deployed the taser. Gionfriddo deployed the taser a second time to allow Lyth to secure handcuffs on A.M.
Jacobs wrote in a footnote that precedent says “it is not excessive force to deploy tasers, after a warning, against arrestees who are dangerous or resisting arrest.”
The case has been remanded to the district court with instructions to enter judgment for Gionfriddo on the ground of qualified immunity.