WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court said Tuesday that two Phoenix police officers used reasonable force when they repeatedly used a Taser to subdue a man who later died.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that the company that makes the Taser had proper warning labels on the device. The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the dead man’s family against the company and the officers.
Police were called to Ronald Marquez’s Phoenix home on the morning of July 28, 2007, after his mother heard “praying and yelling” from a room where Ronald was with his daughter, Cynthia, 19, and granddaughter, Destiny, 3.
When police arrived, they learned that Ronald was trying to perform an exorcism on his daughter and granddaughter. They forced their way in after hearing “a little girl screaming and crying like she (was) in severe pain or something (was) torturing her,” the court ruling said.
Phoenix police officers David Guliano and Joshua Roper forced open the bedroom door, which had had a bed shoved against it. Once inside, Roper found Cynthia in the corner screaming, after her father had gouged one of her eyes in an attempted exorcism. Ronald Marquez had Destiny in a chokehold.
Roper told Marquez to “let go of the child or I’m going to tase you,” but Marquez held on to the girl. Roper twice fired the Taser at Marquez, but the bedroom was too cramped for the Taser darts to properly attach and stun him. Court documents said he would have had to be at least seven feet from Marquez for the darts to work properly.
Guliano was able to get Destiny away from her grandfather and hand her to a relative.
At that point, Marquez began kicking Roper, who had switched the Taser to “drive-stun mode,” in which the device’s electrodes are applied directly to the suspect’s body, causing pain but not incapacitating him.
Both officers attempted to use the weapon on Marquez, but he “was flailing so wildly that they were never sure that they made good contact,” the opinion said.
The officers used the Taser 22 times in total, but they testified that most of the charges went into the air or shocked them as they handed the weapon to each other.
“The weapon seemed to have no effect on Ronald,” the opinion said. “After the officers finally wrestled Ronald into submission, they turned to Cynthia, who was by then trying to assault Roper.”
They subdued Cynthia with the Taser, then turned back to Ronald who by then had a weak pulse. They tried to resuscitate him, but he went into cardiac arrest and died.
Marquez’s mother, Lydia, sued over the death, but a federal district court rejected the suit. She appealed, but the circuit court Tuesday upheld the lower court decision.
The appellate opinion said that while the force Roper and Guliano used was significant, it was justified.
“The officers could have reasonably believed that they were themselves in danger,” the court said. “Officers are well aware that more of their colleagues are injured on domestic violence calls than on any other sort.”
It also said that warning labels on the weapon were sufficient under Arizona state law. TASER International, the makers of the stun-gun devise, issued a statement welcoming the ruling.
“We’re pleased with the decision as it confirms that TASER’s warnings are sufficient as a matter of law and that the use of force was reasonable and justified in this highly dynamic situation faced by the officers,” the statement said.
Marquez’s attorney could not be reached for comment on Tuesday’s ruling.