After being stopped for not wearing his seatbelt, driver Mark Anthony Young exited his vehicle and sat on the curb eating his broccoli and tomatoes. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Wells ordered Young to, “just have a seat in the truck.” Young declined stating, “I don’t feel like sitting in my truck, man.” Wells continued to order Young back in the truck. While sitting on the curb eating his snack, Deputy Wells approached Young from behind and pepper sprayed him with no warning. When Young stood up, Wells continued to pepper spray Young. According to Wells, once Young got up, Wells feared that Young was about to throw the broccoli at Wells to cause a distraction before assaulting him. Fearing for his safety from a broccoli based assault, Wells pulled out his baton and struck Young a number of times. Young sued the officer for, among other things, using excessive force in violation of 4th amendment.
Pepper spray, batons, tasors, physical moves, and firearms are all considered use of force and under the legal principles discussed below generally are evaluated the same way. Boiled down to its basics to justify a use of force (whether it’s a pepper spray or a discharge of firearm) the court is looking at: Whether the officer’s use of force was a reasonable response to the level of danger/harm the suspect presented. Put another way, did the officer fear for his safety or the safety of those around him based on what the suspect was doing, and if so, was that fear reasonable under the circumstances?
The court noted that both pepper spray and baton blows have been regarded as Aintermediate force.@ And while this level of force is less than deadly, it still can cause significant pain and injury, thus not taken lightly. Since the level of force was relatively high, the Deputy would have to demonstrate a similar level of threat to himself or others to justify the force. For example, if a suspect is charging at a police officer with a loaded firearm pointed at the officer, the officer would clearly fear for his life and any reasonable person would agree that the officer=s fear was justified. Thus, since the level of threat to the officer was at the top of the threat spectrum, the officer would be justified in countering with deadly force to stop the threat.
The court found that Deputy Well’s actions were excessive. With regards to the pepper spray, the court noted that Young was sitting on the curb, eating broccoli, after being pulled over for not wearing seatbelt. These facts did not present a plausible safety threat to Deputy Wells to justify the use of pepper spray. There was simply not a high enough threat to justify the level of force used. Once sprayed, Young stood up. Wells tried to justify the baton blows given his fear and belief that Young was about to mount an assault with broccoli to gain a position of advantage over Wells. The court found, that while Wells may have personally felt his safety was in jeopardy, his personal beliefs still had to be reasonable, a question they left for the jury.
The court concluded Wells performed a text book violation of Young=s constitutional rights. Wells used significant force without warning, Young posed no apparent threat to officer safety or public safety, was not seeking to flee, nor did Wells use less intrusive alternatives to handle the situation.
Leave your comment below… Was Wells fear of broccoli based assault reasonable, yes or no?.(