Calcasieu Parish Taser Death Raises Questions on Duty of Care

A man died in Calcasieu Parish following an altercation with the Lake Charles Police Department. The victim, Deshotels, was chased out of a neighbor’s garage by her husband. The husband grabbed him in a chokehold, which ultimately rendered him unconscious. On their way to a burglary call in the same area, the police en route received a call from dispatch that the neighbor had apprehended Deshotels. Believing it to be the same call, they arrived at the apartment complex, expecting to deal with a burglary suspect, not a trespasser. When Deshotels attempted to run from the police officers, one of them tased him twice to stop his resistance so the others could handcuff him. The officers noted that Deshotels had turned blue and stopped breathing so they uncuffed him and called an ambulance.

His family sued the officers involved, the Lake Charles Police Department, and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office. They brought charges for excessive force and failing to provide appropriate medical assistance against the officers involved in cowing Deshotels. Against the other officers present, they brought bystander liability claims for not preventing the tasing. The trial court granted summary judgment to the police department, dismissing the bystander liability and excessive force claims against the majority of the officers. However, the family’s claims of failure to render appropriate medical assistance and excessive force by the tasing officer are currently pending before the district court. The family appeals the dismissal of these claims.

An excessive force claim will succeed if the plaintiff can show that he suffered an injury that resulted directly and only from the use of force and that the force used was objectively unreasonable. In police situations, courts consider factors like whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of others, whether he was actively resisting arrest or trying to flee, the existence of alternative methods of arrest, the nature of the offense involved, and the risks and dangers faced by the officers. But because police officers are usually required to make split second judgments in tense situations, the court evaluates the officer’s use of force from the perspective of a reasonable officer being thrust into that scene. Since the excessive force claim against the tasing officer was denied summary judgment, the appellate court looked the other officer’s actions in subduing and handcuffing Deshotels. Were the actions reasonable under the circumstances?

In light of the circumstances the appellate court affirmed the district court’s judgment, finding the officers’ actions objectively reasonable and entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects police officers from being sued for damages unless they violated clearly established law that a reasonable police officer would have known. In this case, the court found the officers’ conduct to be reasonable under the circumstances. Deshotels was attempting to flee and strongly resisting arrest, they thought he was a burglar, and Deshotels was a big, strong man, clearly a threat to the officers’ safety. In this light, the officers’ attempts to subdue and handcuff him were reasonable.

If you or a family member have been injured in a police altercation and would like to pursue a case, please contact the Berniard Law Firm for assistance.

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