Tasered Man Who Caught Fire Can Sue PA Trooper
How to explain this story? The short rundown is this:
Back in 2008, Allen Brown took a ride on the Schuylkill Expressway on a lil’ motor scooter, with no plates, and with no protective headgear. Pennsylvania troopers gave chase; Brown fell off the scooter, which then skidded ahead and began leaking gasoline—which soaked Brown. Brown tried to get back on the scooter, despite the fact that Pennsylvania State Tropers had taken note of the situtation and were trying to prevent him from taking his riteful place atop the miniature, motorizedsteed.
During the struggle, several troopers tried using a Taser on Brown. The last, Trooper Peter Burghart, “deployed” his Taser twice—and set Brown on fire. The flames were quickly extinguished, but Brown still wasn’t quite subdued.
Once the flames were put out, however, Brown was gearing up for a fight, saying, “You guys set me on fire, you tried to kill me. I’m going to kick your ass,” according to Burghart’s deposition testimony. Burghart said he had to use his Taser again and backup then helped put Brown in handcuffs.
Brown eventually pleaded guilty to DUI and attempting to elude an officer. But he also sued Burghart and another trooper, Justin LeMaire, for using “excessive force” with their Tasers, despite his exposure to the gasoline.
Which brings us to this week, when a judge said the suit can proceed.
U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter wrote that Burghart is not entitled to immunity from civil prosecution—because, well, setting somebody on fire isn’t typically a consequence of evading a low-speed chase. “Burghart is not entitled to qualified immunity because ‘an officer familiar with legal precedent regarding the amount of force appropriate in the case of (1) an unarmed, but resisting suspect (2) who was not attempting to harm officers and, (3) aside from resisting arrest, had only committed traffic violations surely would not conclude that conduct risking lighting that suspect on fire was an appropriate amount of force.'”
No word on when the suit goes forward.