Tribal Police and Sheriff Argue over Who Gets to Taser Woman in Domestic Dispute

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Daniel Johnson (photo: Bishop Paiute Tribe Newsletter)

The Bishop Paiute Tribe is suing the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department in U.S. District Court, claiming its sovereign rights were violated by the arrest of a tribal police officer for performance of his legal duties, and a subsequent cease-and-desist order (pdf).

The Sheriff’s Department wants tribal Officer Daniel Johnson punished for using a stun gun on a woman during a domestic dispute, and asked for the order to stop the tribal police from “illegally exercising state police powers under the color of authority.”

The sheriff’s department has, and uses, stun guns, as do a lot of law enforcement agencies. The sheriff’s big legal complaint was that tribal police shouldn’t be wielding them, although it did mention that an unarmed woman, well known by the authorities and outweighed by 100 pounds, was tasered multiple times while arguing with her ex-husband over their child.       

Ten years after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned about the “overhyped,” often-abused, surprisingly deadly weapon, the Los Angeles Times could legitimately write a headline that showed how far we’ve evolved on the issue: “Stun Guns Not a Cure-All for Police Shootings, Experts Warn.”

Stun gun critics, like Hullabaloo political blogger Heather Barton (aka Digby), decry “that anything but instant obeisance is cause for the use of tasers, many times under the bogus rationale that an officer ‘felt’ he or she was in danger.” She notes:

“Elderly people with dementia are being killed with electro-shock. Small children are being disciplined with electro-shock. The mentally ill, the deaf and those suffering from epilepsy are being tortured because they cannot understand, hear or respond to police orders. Average citizens are being tortured on the side of the highway, in their homes, everywhere for failing to understand that when a police officer stops them they are not allowed to speak or react in any way lest they be shot through with electricity.”

That is not the issue in the case of  Bishop Paiute Tribe v. Inyo County.

Johnson had arrived on the scene at the reservation in response to a call from the woman’s ex-husband, who complained his former wife was causing a disturbance at his home while attempting to visit her son. The officer arrived in uniform and in a marked tribal police vehicle. He identified himself to the woman but, according to the lawsuit, that probably wasn’t necessary.

He had cited her four previous times for violations of tribal orders. Tribal police had responded to 11 calls involving the woman during a nine-month period in 2014.

During the attempted arrest of the woman, who was not identified in court records, Johnson unsuccessfully employed his stun gun twice to subdue the woman, who had allegedly become violent toward the officer.

An Inyo County deputy arrived and assisted Johnson, but then called for police back-up when the two officers became outnumbered by the woman and her hostile family members. She was ultimately cited, but not arrested at the request of her ex-husband.

The Inyo County district attorney has charged Johnson with falsely representing himself to be a public officer, assault with a stun gun, false imprisonment and simple battery.

–Ken Broder and Noel Brinkerhoff



To Learn More:

Tension Between Tribe and California Sheriff (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

Bishop Tribe Supports Officer; Inyo County Has Response (Bishop Paiute Tribe)

Bishop Paiute Tribe Defends Officer Facing Charges In County (

Dispatch from Torture Nation, Year End Wrap Up (by Heather “Digby” Barton, Hullabaloo)

Bishop Paiute Tribe v. Inyo County (U.S. District Court Eastern District of California (pdf)

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