Snohomish Sergeant Jeffrey Sheldon electroshocks man “frozen with fear”
Case: GRAVELET-BLONDIN v. Shelton, Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2013
In the early evening of May 4, 2008, Sergeant Jeff Shelton and four other officers from the Snohomish, Washington Police Department were dispatched to respond to a 911 call of a suicide in progress made by family members of an elderly suspect, Jack. When the officers arrived at Jack’s home he was sitting in his car, which was parked in the side yard of his house, with a hose running from the exhaust pipe into one of the car’s windows. The officers had been warned that Jack owned a gun and would have it with him. Sgt. Shelton took precautions to ensure officer safety and then asked Jack to get out of the car.
After several requests Jack finally complied, turning his car off and stepping out with his hands at his sides. When Jack refused multiple commands to show his hands, Sgt. Shelton—concerned that Jack might gain access to a gun—instructed another officer to tase Jack in dart mode. Jack fell to the ground and, as officers attempted to restrain and handcuff him, he pulled his arms underneath him. He was then tased a second time.
Donald and Kristi Gravelet-Blondin (“the Blondins”), Jack’s neighbors, were watching TV at home when the police arrived at the scene. They heard noise coming from the direction of Jack’s house and went outside—Donald Blondin (“Blondin”) in shorts, a t-shirt, and slippers—to investigate and make sure their neighbor was all right. When they stepped into the yard between Jack’s house and their own, the Blondins heard Jack moaning in pain, and Blondin saw officers holding Jack on the ground.
Blondin called out, “what are you doing to Jack?” He was standing some thirty-seven feet from Jack and the officers at the time, with Jack’s car positioned in between. At least two of the officers holding Jack yelled commands at Blondin: one instructed him to “get back,” while another told him to “stop.” According to a bystander watching the scene unfold, Blondin took one or two steps back and then stopped. Blondin recalls that he simply stopped. Sgt. Shelton then ran towards Blondin, pointing a taser at him and yelling at him to “get back.” Blondin froze. The bystander testified that Blondin “appeared frozen with fear,” and Defendants have conceded that he made no threatening gestures.
Sgt. Shelton began to warn Blondin that he would be tased if he did not leave, but fired his taser before he had finished giving that warning. Sgt. Shelton tased Blondin in dart mode, knocking him down and causing excruciating pain, paralysis, and loss of muscle control. Blondin, disoriented and weak, began to hyperventilate. Sgt. Shelton asked Blondin if he “want[ed] it again” before turning to Ms. Blondin and warning, “You’re next.” Sgt. Shelton then ordered another officer to handcuff Blondin. Paramedics called to the scene removed the taser’s barbs from Blondin’s body and tried to keep him from hyperventilating. Blondin was arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer, a charge that was ultimately dropped.
Decision: Appeals court reverses district court decision so that Sergeant Sheldon gets no qi.