(CN) – Minnesota police illegally Tasered a woman for refusing to hang up her 911 call after officers handcuffed her husband during a traffic stop, the 8th Circuit ruled.
Sandra Brown and her husband, Richard, were driving home from dinner in downtown Minneapolis when they were pulled over by a Golden Valley squad car. One of the officers asked Richard if he knew why he’d been stopped, and Richard replied that he did not.
An officer opened the driver-side door, yanked Richard from the car, threw him against the side of the car and handcuffed him. Sandra, the passenger, called 911, saying she was frightened by the officers’ aggression. She said they never asked for her husband’s license, registration or proof of insurance, and never told him why he’d been pulled over.
As she was explaining the situation to the 911 operator, she allegedly heard someone yell, “She is on 911. She is on 911.” Backup officer Rob Zarrett ordered Sandra to “Get off the phone.”
When she refused, he Tasered her.
He claimed the action was necessary, because Sandra had disobeyed his orders to unfasten her seatbelt. He also spotted two empty cocktail glasses on the floors, in violation of the state’s open-container law.
Sandra sued Zarrett and the city of Golden Valley for use of excessive force, claiming she was physically and psychologically injured by the Tasering.
“Given the circumstances surrounding the Tasering and arrest, we are not convinced that Zarrett’s use of force was objectively reasonable as a matter of law,” the St. Louis-based appeals court ruled.
Judge Wollman pointed out that Sandra had not been trying to flee or resist arrest when she was Tasered.
“Her principal offense, it would appear, was to disobey the commands to terminate her call to the 911 operator,” Wollman wrote. “Whether Zarrett reasonably interpreted her refusal as a realistic threat to his personal safety or whether it constituted nothing more than an affront to his command authority is a matter for a jury to decide.”
The court rejected the defendants’ bid for qualified or official immunity.