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Defense seeks immunity for Glendale officer who used Taser on handcuffed suspect

An attorney representing a former Glendale, Arizona, police officer sued for using a Taser on a man several times, including once in the testicles, told a federal judge Friday that the ex-officer acted in good faith when stopping and detaining the man during a traffic stop.

Johnny Wheatcroft and his family filed suit against the city of Glendale, then-Officer Matthew Schneider and others in 2018, claiming Schneider repeatedly used a Taser on Wheatcroft after he was handcuffed and detained following a traffic stop. Wheatcroft said he spent months in jail for resisting arrest charges before they were dismissed.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office brought charges against Schneider in September on three counts of aggravated assault. 

Joseph Popolizio, an attorney with Jones, Skelton & Hoculi, argued before U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi that Schneider acted in good faith when he initiated a "Terry stop" on a vehicle suspected of committing a turn signal violation. Wheatcroft was a passenger in the vehicle.

Wheatcroft's attorney, Jody Broaddus, contends Schneider could not have reasonably witnessed a turn signal traffic violation that would qualify him to execute the traffic stop. 

Popolizio claimed Schneider acted in good judgment or on "reasonable suspicion" based on several factors.

"The way that the car maneuvered, the way that the car passed through three spaces stopped, and backed into a spot when there were available spots there," Popolizio told the court. "That is a telltale sign in a high crime area."

Popolizio also claimed that Wheatcroft had acted suspiciously, pushing the officer to escalate force after the stop.

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"Mr. Wheatcroft becomes agitated," Popolizo said. "And when that's occurring, and he's questioning and not complying with officer requests for commands. There is a reach into the bag. When he reaches into that bag, after he's already said that he doesn't have ID, Officer Schneider tells him not to do that. So now we have an officer safety concern."

The defense claims the court should grant Schneider qualified immunity from the lawsuit because he believes he acted according to the law when he asked Wheatcroft for his name and identification.

"Assuming there was a proper stop on the vehicle that will allow him to ask. You don't have to give it to him," Broaddus argued against the motion for judgment. "What did Schneider do in response to that? He was threatening to arrest him for not providing his ID in the video. What does he do next? He opens the car door. No instructions to get out."

Liburdi seemed apprehensive to grant judgment either on qualified immunity or the Terry stop. 

"Let's say I don't necessarily agree with the way the evidence is presented, that Mr. Wheatcroft was tensing up and some of the things that you said," Liburdi said. "I mean, do I deny qualified immunity, or do I let the jury decide?"

The court will reconvene in a week.

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