The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently affirmed immunity for two police officers who tased a gasoline-soaked suicidal man, setting him on fire and burning him to death in the process.
The case is Ramirez v. Guadarrama, and the facts are not for the faint of heart. Two police officers responded to a 911 call that Gabriel Eduardo Olivas was suicidal. When Officer Jeremias Guadarrama and Sergeant Ebony Jefferson arrived on the scene, Olivas had doused himself with gasoline and was threatening to burn the house down while other people were inside. Despite warmings from another officer on the scene, Officer Guadarrama tased Olivas; as expected, Olivas burst into flames. Olivas died from his injuries, and the house burned to the ground. The other inhabitants escaped.
Olivas’s widow and son sued. Guadarrama and Jefferson argued that they were immune from the lawsuit. The district court denied the officers’ requests for immunity, but a panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding in favor of the police. On Friday, the full Fifth Circuit voted 13-4 to deny a rehearing, ending the plaintiffs’ case absent intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.