Here’s an interesting and tragic development that comes, ironically, at the same time that a Bay Area jury gave a BART cop a conviction for involuntary manslaughter for shooting a black man, face down and handcuffed, and killing him at point blank range. His defense was that he mistook his gun for a taser. See, he was going to tase a face-down handcuffed man but he fired a bullet into him instead. For this execution, he faces a possible four-year sentence.

Family members of Derek Thomas, nephew of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, are alleging that the younger Thomas, was punched and tased when he was admitted to West Jefferson Hospital Thursday.

The family says the use of the taser caused Thomas to have a seizure.

According to at statement from the family, Derek Thomas, who is epileptic, refused to put on a hospital gown and tried to leave his examination after a possible suicide attempt. They say security “punched him in his lip, pulled out more than a fistful of his dreadlocks and tasered him to restrain him.”

Doctors knew about Thomas’ epilepsy, but ordered security officers to use the taser anyway, instead of sedating him, the family says.

I don’t know the status of this case but there was some talk that it might be heard by the Supreme Court.

The 22-page decision illustrates how “an already bad morning for [Carl] Bryan took a turn for the worst” in the summer of 2005.

Bryan, then 21, had spent the night in Ventura County with family and had planned to drive his brother to his parents’ house in Coronado when he realized that someone had accidentally taken his car keys to Los Angeles.

Wearing the T-shirt and boxers he had slept in, Bryan got a ride to Los Angeles with his cousins, retrieved his keys, then headed back to Ventura County to pick up his brother for the ride south again.

On the way to Coronado, the California Highway Patrol stopped Bryan for speeding, and then later Coronado Officer Brian McPherson pulled him over for not wearing a seat belt.

Angry at himself for forgetting to buckle up and for getting his second ticket in a day, the judge wrote, Bryan was clearly agitated during the second stop, at one point hitting the steering wheel and cursing at himself.

He then got out of the car, and was “yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs, clad only in boxers and tennis shoes,” while McPherson stood 20 to 25 feet away, the judge wrote. Bryan reportedly made no threats to the officer and did not attempt to flee.

The officer testified that he had told Bryan to stay in the car and that Bryan had taken “one step” toward him. Bryan denied both statements.

Then “without giving any warning, Officer McPherson shot Bryan with a Taser,” Wardlaw wrote. Bryan, who according to physical evidence was facing away from the officer fell on his face as 50,000 volts of electricity ran through his body. Four teeth shattered when he hit the pavement.

Bryan was hospitalized and charged with resisting an officer in performance of his duties. The case ended with a hung jury, and the charge was dismissed.

A bad day, indeed. The 9th District ruled that the police used excessive force. In any case, whether this case goes to the Supreme Court or not, the lower courts are seeing a long-list of taser-related cases and I expect that before long Clarence Thomas will have an opportunity to rule on the proportionality of using a taser in some situation or another.

I feel badly for Derek Thomas and I hope his medical and psychological problems improve soon. I also hope Justice Thomas is influenced in some way by seeing this happen to a close family member. Sometimes a little perspective like that can change how you view the law. I think tasers are dangerous and potentially lethal tools that are being used way too casually and with much too little training. I hope Thomas, someday, will agree with me.

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