Taser In Context
In Charlton, Iowa in June, 2010, police "handcuffed and hog-tied" a 34-year-old woman after they pulled her and her boyfriend over because they believed she was the victim of domestic abuse. She survived.
In San Bernardino, California, on November 15, 2011 a woman called police because she couldn't calm her 29-year old son, a schizophrenic who was having a seizure. Shot by a police officer with a taser, the man died.
On June 20, 2011 a Thetford, Vermont man called a local hospital and threatened to kill himself and others. Police responded, one thing led to another, and the man ended up dying from "sudden cardiac death due to conducted electrical weapon discharge."
That same month, a 25-year-old Tukwila, Washington man, whom his mother stated (according to this news report) "had been diagnosed as being bipolar and having PTSD after a confrontation with police in which he was tased six years ago," called police after a fight with his sister. Officers arrived, tased the man, and he died.
A lawsuit scheduled for April against TASER International stems from the death of a 24-year old Chicago man, then attending Miami (Fla.) University, who was tased outside of a bar by police responding to a fight.
Most recently, a New Mexico policeman has Tasered a ten-year-old intermediate/junior high/middle school student
on a playground because the boy refused to clean his patrol car, the boy claims in court.
Guardian ad litem Rachel Higgins sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Motor Transportation Police Officer Chris Webb on behalf of the child, in Santa Fe County Court.
Higgins claims Webb used his Taser on the boy, R.D., during a May 4 "career day" visit to Tularosa New Mexico Intermediate School.
"Defendant Webb asked the boy, R.D., in a group of boys, who would like to clean his patrol unit," the complaint states. "A number of boys said that they would. R.D., joking, said that he did not want to clean the patrol unit.
"Defendant Webb responded by pointing his Taser at R.D. and saying, 'Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police.'"
Webb then shot "two barbs into R.D.'s chest," the complaint states.
"Both barbs penetrated the boy's shirt, causing the device to deliver 50,000 volts into the boy's body.
"Defendant Webb pulled the barbs out [of] the boy's chest, causing scarring where the barbs had entered the boy's skin that look like cigarette burns on the boy's chest.
"The boy, who weighed less than 100 lbs., blacked out.
"Instead of calling emergency medical personnel, Officer Webb pulled out the barbs and took the boy to the school principal's office," the complaint states.
Higgins says the Tasing gave the boy post-traumatic stress syndrome, and that "The boy, R.D., has woken up in the middle of the night holding his chest, afraid he is never going to wake up again."
She adds: "No reasonable officer confronting a situation where the need for force is at its lowest, on a playground with elementary age children, would have deployed the Taser in so reckless a manner as to cause physical and psychological injury."
She seeks punitive damages for the boy for battery, failure to render emergency medical care, excessive force, unreasonable seizure, and negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.
Higgins and R.D. are represented by the Kennedy Law Firm, of Albuquerque.
There have been numerous other incidents the past few years. Digby, who has been on top of the issue for years, argues Officer Webb "was only telling the truth.This is what happens to people who don't 'listen to the police.' Even if they are having epileptic fits, are mentally ill, drunk, on drugs or are otherwise unable to comply." But she is, uncharacteristically, missing the point. Rather than shooting because of a challenge to his authority, Webb, it appears, employed (or at least aimed) the weapon out of a reckless sense of humor. Courthouse News Service reported he "pulled out the barbs and took the boy to the school principal's office."
That demonstrates probably the greatest danger in widespread use of the taser by law enforcement personnel. It kills less often than bullets and no doubt seems to the public, nearly all of which has not experienced it, and to many police officers as a "clean," almost inoffensive, way to subdue the unruly and disobedient. It's unlikely that the same officer who joked 'Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police,'" pulled the trigger, and then whisked the victim to the principal's office, would have pulled out a standard revolver. Abuse is easy and may be rampant. (Children cleaning the assigned vehicle of a public servant as part of 'career day' is a problem in itself.)
There is no consensus on the danger stun guns pose and it is critical to gain clarity on the physical and psychological impact of the weapons. Though most states permit a police officer (and, alarmingly, the public) to possess a taser, not all do, reflecting different attitudes toward the citizenry they protect. Prohibition, according to this pro-taser website, exists in five states: Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island (and the District of Columbia). Like the death penalty, applied relatively freely in a few states, rarely in others, and barred in others, the taser is not a national problem, but one of individual states. So when viewing crime and the response of the State to it, we need to remember: it's a state thing, not a national thing.