November 25, 2013

Man Tasered Twice by Ithaca Police Officer Granted Additional Hearing

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An additional hearing will be held for a convicted Elmira man who was arrested after Ithaca police tasered him and discovered a bag of cocaine in his mouth, a New York State appellate court ruled Thursday.

The appellate court ruled that Karseen Atkinson should have been offered the opportunity to question whether evidence used against him was obtained through “excessive force,” which would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to the appellate court’s ruling.

The ruling added that the Tompkins County Court — which convicted Atkinson in February 2012 — made an error when they denied him a suppression hearing, which according to Assistant District Attorney Andrew Bonavia would allow the defendant to make his case regarding the seized bag of cocaine found in his mouth.

“As the motion papers raised a factual dispute concerning the use of a taser and whether it might be considered excessive force, giving rise to a potentially unreasonable search and seizure that may require suppression of the evidence, a hearing was required,” the NYS appellate court’s decision read.

Atkinson was arrested in April 2011 after police located him as the passenger of a vehicle, seeking to arrest him on a parole violation warrant, according to the appellate court’s decision. After removing him from the vehicle, officers noticed an object in his mouth — a bag of cocaine — and ordered him to spit out the object. Atkinson failed to obey the officers, and in response, at least one officer tasered him twice until he spit out the bag of cocaine, according to the press release.

In addition, the officers found an additional plastic bag of cocaine in Atkinson’s pocket and an unlicensed handgun in the trunk of the car, according to the district attorney’s press release.

After undergoing trial, Atkinson was convicted for two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance — one for the possession of a narcotic and one for the intent to sell the narcotic, according to Bonavia — and one count of criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to eight years, according to a Feb. 2012 press release from the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office.

Bonavia said the suppression hearing would be held to contest a portion of the evidence. If the court sides with Atkinson and rules that the bag of cocaine seized from the defendant’s mouth was retrieved unlawfully, the evidence would need to be thrown out, potentially necessitating a retrial.

The appellate court, however, found that the bag of cocaine found in Atkinson’s pocket and the handgun were discovered by police during a lawful search, and as a result that evidence will not be reevaluated.

According to the appellate court’s ruling, Atkinson — who represented himself — “had a limited education and no prior employment.” He had also been arrested 12 prior times for felonies and misdemeanors.

The date for the hearing has not yet been determined, according to Bonavia.