Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Irresponsible Taser Use Puts Kids at Risk

Update: Sanchovilla at Tales of a Public Defender Investigator posted about this case, including a chilling account of the incident posted on the MySpace page of one of his friends. She was not an eyewitness, so I'm not sure where her version of events comes from, but she claims that he was tases four or five times, and that he only became combative after the police officer tased him. Up until that point, he was just shouting on the corner for Jesus. He apparently is bipolar with a history of hospitalizations. This brings up another issue on law enforcement training which is that many police officers get little to no specialized training in how to deal with a mentally ill person in distress. They often end up treating them the same way they would any old resistant suspected criminal, and sometimes that leads to tragic results. Very, very sad. I hope there is a full investigation, and that it looks not just at the particular officers involved, but their training and use of force policies.

Original post:

A teenager was killed when he was tasered not once, but twice, by police officers after he allegedly became combative with them. There's really not enough information in this article to know whether the use of the taser in this case was appropriate, but it does represent yet another use of a taser on a child when there is little to no evidence about the risks associated with using tasers on children. In the first few weeks of my job here in Washington, I must have read at least three police reports where the officer used a taser on a child who was not attempting to harm the officer or any other person. In two of the cases, the child was running away from the officer. In the third case, the child was refusing to get out of the car he had been driving. I was appalled. My experience in Dallas County was that officers used tasers when they would have been otherwise authorized to use lethal force. If a suspect was refusing to put down a knife, or actually assaulting the officer. Here, they seem to use them so they don't have to run fast. It doesn't sound like they have any kind of department policy on when it is appropriate to use the taser. And, if they do have one, it doesn't seem to take into account the fact that there is little to no evidence suggesting that tasers are safe to use on children. As I've said when I blogged about taser use in the past, I fully support departments trying to find less violent and lethal methods of controlling uncooperative suspects. But, the overuse of tasers, especially on children who are not posing any direct threat to anyone, is not responsible. Not by a long shot.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is crazy huh? Our county down here keeps loose stats on their taser use and we have had at least three deaths in the last 1 1/2 years. Completely unacceptable and insane that we allow the departments to keep using this non-lethal means of subduing people.

10/31/2006 10:31 AM  
Blogger 123txpublicdefender123 said...

Seriously. The sad part is that I feel like the police officers who are using these tasers irresponsibly are doing so because they are not being given correct information about when it is appropriate to use them. Would the officer in this case have shot this kid with his gun under these circumstances? I highly doubt it. But, they are repeatedly told how the taser only causes transitory pain and incapacitation so they feel free to use it any time they want to control a suspect. If they had correct information--that there is no reliable information indicating they are safe to use on children, for example--I think we would have more responsible use by individual officers. Police departments need to start taking some responsibility here.

10/31/2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

That is so wrong on so many levels

10/31/2006 1:28 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

I agree. While I prefer the police to taze people rather than shooting them, it does seem that they think since it is "non-lethal" they can use these things whenever they are mildly annoyed with a person instead of in actual danger. The quote in our police reports is usually a variation on, "I used the minimum amount of force to gain complaince." However, it could be that they were trying to "gain compliance" of a drunk who didn't want to go to detox.

10/31/2006 4:56 PM  

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