Can you punch a handcuff prisoner?
Can you use OC spray on a subject who is handcuffed, on his back on the ground with the officer seated on top?
If a subject was pointing a gun at an officer and the officer disarms the subject and creates distance can the officer shoot the subject?
For a number of years I have been asking these questions to groups of law enforcement officers and trainers. In most cases I get emphatic yes or no answers. None of these questions can be answered with a yes or no based on the information provided. The answer is depends. Just remember remember adult diapers. Adult diapers? Yes, they are called Depends and depends is the answer to all these questions. Depends in fact is the initial answer to most use of force questions. The depends answer should be followed by a series of questions focused on determining the Totality of Circumstances.
Lets go back to the handcuffed prisoner question. It is easy for people to jump to a ‘no’ answer if they are imagining a prisoner in handcuffs who is sitting quietly and not resisting in any way. The question “Can you punch a handcuffed prisoner?” however, does not provide enough information to make an informed decision. Based on totality of circumstances it might be very reasonable to not only punch, but to shoot a handcuffed prisoner. There have been officers kicked, head butted, bitten, choked, disarmed, and killed by handcuffed prisoners. There have been handcuffed prisoners who have stolen police vehicles. The fact they are handcuffed tells you little about the dynamics of the situation, or the totality of circumstances.
I became aware of the scenario with the subject on the ground and being sprayed with OC when a trainer who had been through one of my instructor courses called me and said “I have an adult diaper question for you.” When he outlined the totality of circumstances, my opinion was the officer’s actions were both effective in establishing control of the subject and reasonable based on the totality of circumstances.
As a trainer it is easy to get drawn into offering yes or no answers to use of force questions in class. My advice to you is simple. Remember adult diapers and answer with ‘depends’ followed by a series of questions to establish totality of circumstances. The goal of the questions is not for you to be able to answer the question but for you to guide the officer to a point where they can answer the question for themselves. At the end of the discussion the officer should be able to answer their own question and determine what would be reasonable for them based on the totality of circumstances.