Needed: New Taser Policies

TalkLeft has frequently called attention to the dangers that inhere in police officers' reliance on Tasers. This policy on the deployment of Tasers in Gwinnett County, Georgia is typical in its authorization of Taser deployment "to control a non-compliant subject." The video of this tasering, intended to induce a non-compliant driver to get off her cellphone and exit her vehicle after a traffic stop, should be all that is needed to convince policy-makers that tasering is, in most situations, a needlessly cruel way to control the non-compliant.

In addition to inflicting unnecessary pain, Tasers can be deadly. The Gwinnett County policy accurately refers to the Taser as a "less-lethal" weapon rather than a nonlethal weapon. Residents of Jerseyville, Illinois learned just how lethal the Taser can be following the death by tasering of Roger Holyfield. The police confronted Holyfield as he was walking down the sidewalk carrying a Bible and shouting "I want Jesus." They may have given him his wish.

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The officers shot Holyfield at least twice with a Taser, once after he disobeyed their instructions and again when (according to the officers) he struggled with them. Holyfield's mother, who just settled a civil suit against Jerseyville, says her son was tasered while handcuffed and face down.

A special prosecutor decided that the officers may have used bad judgment, but committed no crime.

Chuck Colburn ruled that the officers "acted in a manner that they had been taught was a safe way to use the instrument," and that they did not possess the mental state or recklessness to be held criminally responsible.

"They followed policy" was a sufficient finding to assure city government that its officers had done nothing wrong. The next question, then, is whether there's something wrong with the policy.

This post at the Tales of a Public Defender Investigator blog asks "why we citizens continue to allow [excrement] like this to go on." It also quotes a MySpace post by one of Roger's friends, expressing her understandable anger at his unnecessary death. Sadly, her prediction that the officers who killed Roger "WILL be punished" turned out to be naive.

As TalkLeft reported here, Amnesty International USA has called upon police agencies to suspend their use of Tasers. If they won't take that step, the city councils and county boards and state legislatures that control the police agencies should at least implement restrictions on Taser use that recognize the potential lethality of Tasers. Potentially deadly force should never be used as a compliance tool against unarmed individuals who pose no immediate threat.

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    There are three main factors in the use of tasers (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by JSN on Mon May 04, 2009 at 10:15:56 AM EST
    1. The risk of injury and death. In general this factor cannot be predicted.
    2. The frequency of use. This factor can and should be controlled.
    3. Training. The is extensive training and periodic rectification in the use of firearms by law enforcement officers but I am not aware anything similar for tasers.

    What bothers me is that anyone can purchase a taser and there is no use of force policy for the armed citizen.

    Thanks for pushing this (none / 0) (#1)
    by lobary on Sun May 03, 2009 at 11:39:33 PM EST
    The general public's lack of outrage over the widespread use of tasers by law enforcement officers to force compliance on otherwise non-threatening citizens disturbs me greatly. TalkLeft's outspoken stance toward this egregious behavior is commendable. I wish more lefties would be pissed about this crap, but there seems to be an undercurrent of perverse humor and callousness to it all (i.e. "Don't tase me bro") that even many liberals in the blogosphere have gotten caught up in.

    If you want to know what I'm referring to, read the comments section posted under the Naked Wizard at Coachella incident. (Warning: the video contains graphic nudity and is really sickening to watch).

    It bothers me that it was apparently (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Mon May 04, 2009 at 12:25:58 AM EST
    ok for Sarah Palin's former brother-in-law, a state law enforcement officer, to taser his young stepson.  Consistency is the hobgoblin, etc., but, . . .

    that comes perilously close to (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Mon May 04, 2009 at 12:28:55 AM EST
    They followed policy

    "i was just following orders" as a not acceptable defense, for committing a crime. at some point, regardless of "orders" or "policy", individuals must be held accountable for their own actions, or inactions, as the case may be.

    anything that involves jolting someone with 50k volts of electricity is, by definition, potentially lethal, depending on the individual. that it isn't intended to be lethal is irrelevant.

    a car isn't intended to be lethal either. but, a ton of steel, moving at 65mph, is recognized as a probably lethal object. hence, the laws requiring licensing, sobriety, etc. and that people can be charged with homicide, for (unintentionally) killing others with one.

    any official "policy" that overtly neglects to take this potential lethality into account is, by definition, flawed. any officer, having seen first-hand in training, what a taser can do, should immediately recognize that "policy" as flawed, and not follow it.

    out of curiousity, what law was mr.holyfield violating, when he met his "death by taser"? from reading the linked story (and i'm sure it leaves some facts out) it would appear he was executed for speaking loudly in public.

    so much for the establishment clause.

    yeah. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Salo on Mon May 04, 2009 at 10:01:18 AM EST
    speak loudly in public get electrocuted.  That's a fancy way to undermine the first amendment innit?

    A study (none / 0) (#7)
    by Natal on Mon May 04, 2009 at 01:01:47 PM EST
    was done on Tasers and it found:

    "Of the 41 Tasers tested, four delivered significantly more current than Taser International says is possible. In some cases, the current was up to 50 per cent stronger than specified on the devices."


    Before Tasers and pepper spray (none / 0) (#8)
    by Lora on Mon May 04, 2009 at 08:18:35 PM EST
    What would a cop have done?  I mean, a cop with appropriate training and no particular bone to pick.

    That video was really bad.