Bethel, AK (PRWEB) April 29, 2011
In a recent opinion, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a Bethel Superior Court’s prior decision to prevent a lawsuit against the City of Hooper Bay and a couple of its police officers to proceed to jury trial on the basis of qualified immunity. (Olsen vs. City of Hooper Bay, et al, Supreme Court Number S-13455).
Attorneys Michele Power and Sean Brown from the Power and Brown law firm, brought the lawsuit on Thomas Olsen's behalf in 2007 after two Hooper Bay officers tasered Olson at least 15 times in rapid succession in his own home while he was handcuffed; some of these tasings occurred when Olson was prone on his stomach, and under the control of three freely mobile police officers.
The Court reversed the Bethel Court’s decision on two bases. First, it held that whether Olson represented an immediate threat of harm or injury to himself or others was a question of fact that should have barred summary judgment. Additionally, the Court held that the very nature of the officers’ actions may have provided notice to the officers “that the force they used became excessive.” The Court remanded the case back to the Bethel Superior Court to address these issues in a way that is consistent with the Alaska Supreme Court’s Opinion.
Olson’s lawsuit alleges that in the early morning hours of December 26, 2006, on the basis of a welfare check, Hooper Bay officers entered Olson’s home where they found everyone asleep except a child who responded to the officer’s knock at the door. Olson may have consumed alcohol previously in the night, but no objective sobriety tests were conducted on him to determine his capacity.
According to an audio tape of the incident, Olson was immediately handcuffed. He became increasingly vocal and angry that the officers were present in his home and actively resisted arrest, refused to comply with officer instructions and remained belligerent throughout the initial encounter. At one point, prior to any taser deployment, he kicked at and attempted to bite the officers.
The City of Hooper Bay claimed that its officers should be afforded qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects municipalities and police officers from being sued for damages. However, in some cases they are not afforded such immunity where the conduct of the officers violates clearly established law.
In reaching its decision to reverse the Bethel Superior Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court divided the incident into four phases. Phase One involved the handcuffing of Olson after he was awakened from his sleep. Phase Two involved the tasering of the handcuffed Olson after he and two officers slipped on a plastic sack and fell to the floor, and Olson wrapped his legs around a support pole in the residence. The Court found that this initial tasering was “objectively reasonable” and not “excessive force.”
Phase Three consisted of two officers’ continued tasering of Olson in rapid succession. And in Phase Four, the officers rolled the handcuffed Olson onto his stomach and tasered him again and again. As the Court noted, a “rapid deteriorating situation” occurred which ultimately led to Olson’s being tasered at least 15 times by two officers over a period of just 50 seconds.
The officers claimed that Olson represented a threat to them but the Supreme Court found it “troubling that Olson was handcuffed and seated at the time the police allege he was a threat to their safety.”
According to Power, “society’s standards of decency and the officers’ own common sense should have caused the officers to realize their application of force was excessive.” And, even though Olson’s conduct that night was not perfect, “such conduct does not give officers the right to inflict what some might view as torture on a suspect.” After all, as Brown recognized, “the officers were in the Olson home only for a welfare check and most everyone including Olson was asleep when the officers arrived.”
The attorneys and staff at Power and Brown, LLC are dedicated to the protection and preservation of the rights of those personally injured and victimized in Alaska. With this goal in mind, we have recovered millions of dollars for our clients. Our unwavering commitment to a strong attorney-client relationship is focused on providing quality representation and obtaining deserved justice. Our professional integrity and commitment is matched with thorough research and investigation that provides an exceptional track record of accomplished cases.