A Middle River family who alleges a Baltimore County officer used excessive force with a Taser has a second chance in court after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday partially reversed an earlier decision to throw out their federal suit.
Ryan Meyers' family sued after the 40-year-old died when Baltimore County police responded to his home for a domestic violence call in 2007. Three officers entered the home and one tasered Meyers 10 times because police said he refused to listen to the officers and drop a baseball bat. But Meyers' family said he fell to the ground and was no longer resisting arrest when the officer continued to taser him unnecessarily.
The appeals court partially reversed the District Court's decision to dismiss the case based on qualified immunity, which means the officers can't be sued for doing their jobs. The appeals court agreed that two of the three officers were absolved, but reversed part of the District Court's opinion concerning one officer's use of a Taser. The opinion said that while up to three Taser cycles could be called reasonable, the other seven times were not.
The opinion said "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."
But the appeals court said a jury must decide whether the officers' version of the events or the family's is more credible.
"The whole Taser debate has created just a quagmire in the discussion in the use of force because ... it's the new and developing tech, and they don't know the ramifications," said the family's attorney, Gregory L. Lattimer.
"This is the first time we have had a court ... pinpoint and say you are not going to have free rein with this Taser," he said.
Lattimer said the family's next step is to again file a suit.
An attorney for Baltimore County, Paul Mayhew, defended the officer's actions. He said the officer who fired the Taser, Stephen Mee, remains with the Police Department and was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Mayhew said the plaintiffs have "to connect the Taser and the death. The medical examiner ruled the death to be undetermined," meaning a number of factors could have contributed to Meyers' death, including an underlying heart condition.
"We intend to vigorously defend the officers, and we feel we will prevail," Mayhew said.