Supreme Court revives Taser death lawsuit

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a lower court to take a new look at a case involving repeated police use of a Taser stun gun on a handcuffed Louisiana man who later died.

The justices sent the case of Baron Pikes back to the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. That court dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Pikes’s young son against a former police officer in the central Louisiana town of Winnfield.

The order followed a ruling last week in which the Supreme Court sent another case back to the Fifth Circuit after appellate judges dismissed a lawsuit filed by a man who was shot on the porch of his family home by a Houston-area police officer. The high court said the appeals court acted too hastily in dismissing the injured man’s case.


In the Taser case, the appeals court also will look at whether it should have more fully taken account of the arguments made on behalf of Pikes’s son.

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A police officer used his Taser on Pikes at least eight times over 14 minutes after the 21-year-old had been handcuffed following a brief chase. Pikes was wanted for possession of crack cocaine.

Pikes began showing signs of distress shortly after officers dragged him into the police department building. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

His death certificate listed the cause of death as cardiac arrest, after nine 50,000-volt applications of a stun gun. He had marijuana in his system at the time of his death and had sickle cell anemia. The cause of death is not at issue in the suit.The question is whether police used excessive force, especially because Pikes was handcuffed.

Winnfield fired Officer Scott Nugent after the episode. Nugent was charged with manslaughter in Pikes’s death but was acquitted by a jury in 2010.


A federal trial judge said the civil suit against Nugent could go forward, but the appeals court dismissed the claims.

The appeals court said Pikes was arrested for a serious crime, tried to evade arrest, and did not comply with officers’ commands to cooperate. The court said the case must be dismissed because it wasn’t clear that Nugent’s actions violated Pikes’ constitutional rights.

In other action Monday:

 The Supreme Court ruled that a copyright dispute over the 1980 Oscar-winning movie ‘‘Raging Bull’’ can go another round in court.

The justices said in a 6-to-3 decision that Paula Petrella, daughter of the late screenwriter Frank Petrella, did not wait too long to file her lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer claiming an interest in the film.


Petrella’s father collaborated with legendary boxer Jake La-Motta on a book and two screenplays, which inspired the movie. The elder Petrella died in 1981, with copyrights reverting to his daughter.

She sued MGM in 2009 seeking royalties from continuing commercial use of the film. But a US judge said she waited too long because she had been aware of the potential to file a lawsuit as early as 1991. An appeals court agreed, saying Petrella’s delay of nearly two decades in bringing the case was unreasonable.

 The high court agreed to consider the case of a US air marshal fired after leaking information to the news media about aviation security plans.

The justices will hear an appeal from the Obama administration, which says Robert Mac-Lean is not entitled to whistleblower protection for disclosing that the Transportation Security Administration planned to save money by cutting back on overnight trips for undercover air marshals.