Criminal Justice

Officers who fired stun gun at man doused in gasoline, setting him ablaze, aren’t liable, appeals court rules

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stun gun and cartridges

Image from Karlis Dambrans /

Officers who fired stun guns at a man who had doused himself with gasoline are protected by qualified immunity in a suit by his widow and children, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the officers in Arlington, Texas, did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of Gabriel Eduardo Olivas. TechDirt covered the Feb. 8 upublished decision in a post for Above the Law.

The officers were responding to a 911 call reporting that Olivas had threatened to kill himself and burn down his family’s house. The decision describes what happened after officers fired their stun guns during the July 2017 incident. Olivas was “engulfed in flames,” and the house burned down.

Olivas was badly burned and died several days later. The other family members escaped with the help of officers.

The suit had alleged that one officer shouted to two others, “If we tase him, he is going to light on fire.” But Olivas was yelling that he was going to burn the place to the ground, and he was holding an object that might be a lighter.

At that point, the two other officers fired their stun guns, one after the other.

The 5th Circuit said the officers’ use of force was not unreasonable or excessive. “The fact that Olivas appeared to have the capability of setting himself on fire in an instant and, indeed, was threatening to do so, meant that the officers had no apparent options to avoid calamity,’ the 5th Circuit said.

TechDirt questioned the wisdom of the decision. “With results like these,” the blog says, “it’s a wonder why anyone bothers calling the cops. If the family wanted their father dead and their house burned down, they could have accomplished that by doing nothing.”

The judges on the panel were Andrew Stephen Oldham, Carl Stewart and E. Grady Jolly.

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