Appeals Court Says Tasers Can Be Excessive Force

from the zapped dept

Taser is notoriously defensive about any claims that its supposedly “non-lethal” devices have ever caused anyone to die. Yet, there is a ton of evidence concerning people who have died after being tazed. There are even cases where the company has had courts overrule medical examiners forcing them to change the “cause of death.” Now, as Karl Bode points out, an appeals court has ruled that using a Taser can constitute excessive force. The ruling doesn’t say that Tasers are automatically excessive force, but suggests that the overall circumstances behind the use need to be taken into consideration, and if the victim is not acting in a threatening way, use of a Taser may be inappropriate and excessive.

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Comments on “Appeals Court Says Tasers Can Be Excessive Force”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think most cops mean well, sure there are some bad cops and that’s unacceptable, but it’s not cops in general that I have a problem with. It’s the system they have to work in. Same thing with doctors, most doctors mean well but the system they have to work in requires protocols designed by pharmaceutical corporations with conflicts of interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Totally true. It’s very easy for them to make you the “bad guy”. I recently got hit by another car (very minor). So per standard procedure we called the cops to make a report. They sent no less than 4 cops (wth?). And then, when I turned to ask a question to the guy who hit me, 2 of them immediately moved to intercept like secret service agents, saying,”Whoa there! We’ll talk to him! you just stay there.” Like I was gonna assassinate him or something. I didn’t even move, just turned around. I felt like they were gonna cuff me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“They sent no less than 4 cops (wth?).”

This is mostly true in the U.S. If you go to other countries they will send one cop to handle something that should only require one cop and they hardly ever send more cops than required. Here in America they will send 30 cops for something very minor that should only require one.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As an Englishman, I’m often shocked when I see videos of some of these incidents. Not because of the violence necessarily, but because the speed of escalation caused by the officer is astounding. There are many ways to resolve incidents without resorting to violence, even “non lethal” force like a taser. Rather than do these, the officers often act like belligerent assholes, barking orders without bothering to explain to the person what’s happening. I’ve seen this at times on videos of traffic stops, where the driver honestly doesn’t understand why they’re being ordered out of the car, and the officer doesn’t try to explain before hitting the taser for non-compliance.

Yes, these guys do a dangerous job in a country where guns a far more prevalent than the country I was raised in. Yes, most of these incidents are caused by the bad apples, yada, yada. But the speed with which these weapons are sometimes used is incredible, even if you ignore the fact that they’re not always “non lethal”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I fail to see why the police on “Cops” shout something unintelligible at the perp, then when he doesn’t understand, they shout the same thing but louder and faster repeating it over and over with even less intelligibility, as if somehow louder and faster would improve comprehension, then they wrestle him to the ground or taser him or shoot him when he is actually trying to understand and cooperate.
Why can’t they repeat what they commanded, but slower? Or why can’t they phrase it differently?

Canadian police used to be so polite, and so successful at having easy arrests that the current behaviour has me totally stupefied. How could they have sunk to that level of belligerence?

Ima Fish (profile) says:

My biggest problem with Tasers is the claim that they are a safer alternative to guns. While that is true, it’s also true that Tasers are a safer alternative to artillery. In other words, the claim is only relevant when Tasers are used as replacements for guns. However, in most situation they are used to enforce mere compliance.

Here’s a good example, a high school student was Tasered for failing to stop talking on his cell phone. Does anyone seriously think that a gun ever would have been considered an appropriate use in that situation? Not at all, so the comparison between Tasers and guns is simply nonsense.

The Taser did not make the situation less dangerous. it increased the danger exponentially. The sensible thing to do would be to tell the kid he’s suspended, report it to the office, and go about your business. But instead the kid was shot with about 50,000 volts. So in the end, Tasers are not replacements for guns, they are replacements for common sense.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In other words, the claim is only relevant when Tasers are used as replacements for guns. However, in most situation they are used to enforce mere compliance.

Agreed. The rule-of-thumb for using a taser should be “If I didn’t have a taser, would I use my hand gun?” If the answer is no, then don’t tase him, bro. Is there some grey area in there between shooting a suspect and tasing them? Perhaps, but it does seem that there are too many examples where people are tased just for mouthing off or being an asshole.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“So in the end, Tasers are not replacements for guns, they are replacements for common sense.”

Completely agree, but take it another step further. I see tasers as a utility used by law enforcement to force obedience and acquiesence without the kind of public outcry that can result from the abuse of firearms. Now, there is certainly SOME outcry from the abuse of tasers, but far from the sort that arises from an abuse of guns.

As an example, take the situation that ocurred on the BART lines in San Fran sometime in the last year or so, when a passenger was being subdued and ended up being shot by a transit authority officer. If that guy gets tazed instead of shot, it’s a mere blip on the press radar and the BART authority structure never gets called into question, even the ultimately the level of abuse is absolutely the same, its just that the end effect of said abuse is less severe.

Tasers are the result of government seeking the razor’s edge in terms of what they can do to force us to bend to their will while inducing the minimal amount of public outcry….

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You miss part of the point: Tasers are also a replacement for close in physical contact, which could turn out poorly for the officer. It is about getting the subject into a position where they are no longer a threat, with the minimum risk to officers and by-standers.

The student case is a good example, if you read the story:

“The kid refused to listen,” Chief Burton said. “The officer took him by the arm and said, ‘You have to go to the office.’ The student resisted, pushed the officer. The officer, defending himself, took out his stun gun and did a drive stun.”

Chief Burton said a drive stun involves pushing the Taser against a portion of the body and squeezing the trigger, thus immobilizing a portion of the body, such as the leg. He said this affects about a 2- or 3-inch area.

While on the floor, the student was still resisting and was placed in handcuffs, Chief Burton said. The student complained of a headache and dizziness and was taken to Forbes Regional Hospital.

Basically, the student was resisting, and continued to resist even after he was on the floor. The officer did what was needed to not get into a physical altercation that might have turned out poorly for the officer. Can you imagine the student perhaps grabbing the officer’s gun during a physical struggle?

Generation Diss strikes again.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Oh Puleeze. He couldn’t just cuff the damn kid?”

Reading some of the comments on this thread, I have to wonder:

Can the concept of Stockholm Syndrome be extrapolated to include an entire nation’s population? It seems that we have some kind of unholy love for those in authority here in the States, even when that love is undeserved….

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Your comment said:

“The kid refused to listen,” Chief Burton said. “The officer took him by the arm and said …

The officer instigated violence in a situation where he did not have authority to do so in the interest of his or any one else’s safety.

Police don’t get to instigate violence because they want to. If a cop violates your personal space without cause, then as a citizen you have the right to defend yourself. The cop was out of line and acting illegally.

The officer should be charged with aggravated assault. Unless an officer is putting you under arrest, you are not obligated to follow their requests or answer their questions. They are not gods, they are people.

william (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You believe every report that police files?

Have you ever heard of Robert Dziekanski? He was also tasered for resisting and “combative”, at least in the police report. Then he died.

If it weren’t for a video taken by a bystander, no one would have know that the RCMP basically went in, “tried” to talk to someone who does not speak English for, uhh, 30 secs, tasered him 6 times, then tackled him, hold down his neck till his face turned purple and died on the floor in the Vancouver airport.

Not to mentine RCMP tried to confiscate and hide the tape, refusing to return it. During the inquiry, we find that the police officer on hand TOTALLY falsified the reports.

I do agree that most police meant well, but to have a “non-lethal” weapon doesn’t mean you can just use it anyways you want. The fact that it’s labeled “non-lethal” makes police lazy and use it whatever chance they get without guilt or responsibility. In that case above, while on route, the police officers was joking about “getting there there, taser him a few times and go home”

So the above ruling is good news to all of us, because it would put a mental barrier to force the officers to THINK before they take actions, instead of just default to taser.

Oh yeah, how about the 9 year girl that got tasered for making a scene? That could be “combative” and “resist arrest”.

Matt S (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I can not really imagine the 6th grader (11 YEAR OLD) being so threatening to the officer while shoving him with one hand, that the level of force used was necessary.

You say, “Can you imagine the student perhaps grabbing the officer’s gun during a physical struggle?” I wasn’t aware that we were punishing people for pre-crimes, like something from a Philip K. Dick short story. You’re ridiculous.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems to me that tasering is, in terms of its ability to stop people from being uncooperative, approximately on par with bashing somebody in the knee caps with a baseball bat. Yes, you’ll incapacitate the person and get as much compliance as you want, but it’s probably still unwarranted. It seems to me that tasers should instead of being classified as “non-lethal” weapons, be categorized in a more complex category between lethal and non-lethal, which is “capable of causing lasting harm”, and so should be used judiciously.

that_id (profile) says:

Law enforcement officials definitely need to realize that less-lethal devices are only being used for ‘law-enforcement’, not for whim-enforcement. If this kid was not breaking a municipal law (not just a school rule), not only should law-enforcement never have been involved, but this kid that was tased was illegally assaulted by this officer.
Resisting arrest has become the de-facto reason for most law-enforcement incidents, but ignoring law-enforcement is not against the law if you aren’t doing anything illegal.

a-dub (profile) says:

The officer did what was needed to not get into a physical altercation that might have turned out poorly for the officer.

I disagree. Police officers are trained to handle these situations using various tactics such as pressure points. The use of a tazer in many of these situations is just plain laziness. If it a situation where its cop vs. man with a knife, use tazer. But if its two cops, one on each arm of a disruptive student….there’s clearly no need for a third pig to roll up and drive stun someone.

Anony1 says:

ignoring law-enforcement is not against the law if you aren’t doing anything illegal.

@that_id: FYI. There are specific criminal codes in most states in the USA, that deal with failure to obey a lawful order by a peace officer. It isn’t YOUR call as to if you feel you are doing something illegal. It’s the officer’s call. They may be right, and a detention/arrest justified, or they may be wrong. In the case of wrongful arrests or detentions, there may be legal retribution. This isn’t meant as a statement of opinion on either the use of tasers, or to defend potentially illegal detentions/arrests by police. It is simply a factual rebuttal to your off-topic assertion. Please read, or familiarize yourself with basic law before stating such falsehoods in the future. There are many, many cases where law enforcements use of tasers are excessive, in my view. The root of the problem is what tools are used by law enforcement, and the decision making process for deciding what tools are accepted for general use. The other part of the problem is a lack of non-lethal physical compliance training by officers. There are many effective restraint techniques, that do no long standing physical harm to the suspect, that LE are not being trained in. National Physical training, and self-defense standards would be a start in the US. This would give LE more than just two or three options.So the system of LE in the US and abroad could use a major update, in techniques, and the use of scientific methods of restraint.

ajgajg1134 (profile) says:

Ugh, not this again

Tasers DO NOT KILL! It’s like saying AIDS kills people, it doesn’t, it just shows improper understanding. Aids causes a weak immune system which allows for opportunistic infections, which are the actual killer, without aids, these might not kill but still happen nonetheless. A taser doesn’t kill people who are perfectly healthy, A drugged up perp with heart problems who is killing his heart by almost overdosing on cocaine might get killed by a taser, however is this the fault of the police? I think not. How are police supposed to know if someone is high or has heart problems, they have enough to think about. (Does he have a gun? a knife? Is someone hurt) All this is running through their mind. You try doing that. Have fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ugh, not this again

Weapons like Tasers are called ‘less-lethal’ instead of non-lethal for a reason. Its because there are many ways of dying indirectly from even a theoretically perfect incapacitating weapon. For example: with Tazers you tend to fall down uncontrollably when hit by them. What if you hit something sharp, maybe with your neck? What if you break your nose and pass out and inhale your blood? What if you happen to be moving fast enough that a fall would give a lethal blow to the head? These are all possible situations, some of them are predictable (such as if your standing next to a sharp drop), but many are not. People die even when punched in non-lethal areas due to this. If you stopped to think boxing rings have pads instead of just a concrete floor this would be obvious.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Ugh, not this again

Reminds me of an old Sega CD game where a character is found dead and the police on the scene say something along the lines of …

“He died of natural causes. You can’t live without your spleen, nothing unnatural about that.”

after a body is found mutilated and missing a body organ.

In essence the only thing that ever kills anyone is either a lack of oxygen to the brain or severe brain damage. Everything else is nothing more than a contributing factor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well… I would rather, I think, have them have a stun gun or taser, or whatever they carry. If you remove that option, you leave them with the decision of baton or gun. Yes, a baton might not be as indignant as a taser, on the other hand, apply the wrong about of force, hit the wrong part of the head or body, and the result could be death. On the other hand, if they cannot approach the suspect for grappling, then they have a gun, which can go through and kill an unintended by standard, miss and ricochet, or hit and probably kill the person at some point. All in all, it is an important tool.

So, yea, blame the idiots who abuse it, make sure people understand it isn’t 100% safe, but I do not think the answer is to outlaw them.

maninlandofenchantment (profile) says:

why was the student.....

Why was the student disobeying outright to begin with literally? NOW if only the call had been a call he was making was about someone in his family dying. Other than that I agree the student was disruptive to begin with and its true and fortunate for that student’s peers and the officer that the student did not have the brains to seize and apprehend the officer’s gun making things worse which should of not ended up with the two in a scuffle to begin with.

Anony1 says:

@Ima Fish: I’m against the abuse (and frankly in most cases the use) of tasers as much as the next concerned citizen, but please. This is were people start to go off the deep end. A police officer should be trained with, and use the proper tools designed for (be those physical tools, or restraint techniques) the proper situation. Someone’s age alone shouldn’t be the main factor. Of course, common sense should be used, but don’t try the “I’m young, you must sympathize with me, and allow me to act like a big baby” defense. It gets REALLY old, pretty much instantly. An 18 year old is a teenager technically. He’s also an adult in the US. Age doesn’t define stupidity, but it also isn’t a defense for it.

Anony1 says:

Ugh, not this again
by Anonymous Coward
Weapons like Tasers are called ‘less-lethal’ instead of non-lethal for a reason

All of the above is true, and completely irrelevant. The fact that tasers can have some legitimate use (many argue otherwise), doesn’t excuse their abuse. That should be something people can all agree on. Key words: should be.
In a perfect world there would be no crime too.

Joe says:

“Yet, there is a ton of evidence concerning people who have died after being tazed. “

That’s complete nonsense.

Every single death involving Tasers has been extensively examined by independent coroners, courts, and juries and none of them have found that Taser “caused” the death. Only in about 30 cases has Taser been found to possibly have contributed to the death? Tasers have been used over 600,000 times. You figure it out.

Abusive cops are the police department’s problem, not Tasers. In fact, with Tasers recording capacity, it’s harder to use Tasers for abuse than any other weapon the cop carrys.

DoYouReadTheNews? says:

Re: Re:

“none of them have found that Taser “caused” the death”

And that is why Taser is now advising restraint ?????

To Wit:

“The maker of Taser stun guns is advising police officers to avoid shooting suspects in the chest with the 50,000-volt weapon, saying that it could pose an extremely low risk of an “adverse cardiac event.””

Anony1 says:

@Joe: Industry shill…..that’s what I would accuse you of being if I wanted to. LOL….While the “jury” is still out, here are some interesting facts, via Wikipedia (sources linked in article):
On January 12, 2008, Baron Pikes died after being shocked nine times with a Taser by a police officer. Pikes was handcuffed and six of the shocks were administered within less than three minutes. His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.[46]
April 24, 2008, USA. Kevin Piskura died after being stunned by a X-26 Taser for 10 seconds while interfering with a friend’s arrest by Police in Oxford, Ohio. He was hospitalized after the confrontation and died five days later. Video and audio of the event was recorded by the X-26’s mounted camera.[47]
In June 2008, a federal jury ordered Taser International to pay the family of Robert Heston, Jr., $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages for the 2005 death of the man who died a day after being shocked repeatedly by officers using Tasers. According to a press report, the jury “found that Arizona-based stun-gun manufacturer Taser International should have more effectively warned police that Taser shocks were potentially dangerous.”[48]
July 22, 2008, Winnipeg, Manitoba, a 17 year old aboriginal teen died after being tasered during a standoff. The victim was carrying a knife during the incident[49]
September 24, 2008, USA. Iman Morales Taser incident:
On September 24, 2008 Iman Morales was tasered and died after falling 10 feet to the ground.[50]

Summit County, Ohio medical examiner Lisa J. Kohler cited Taser use as a cause of death in three cases, Mark D. McCullaugh, Dennis S. Hyde, and Richard Holcomb. Taser International sued, and on May 2, 2008, visiting judge Ted Schneiderman ordered the medical examiner to remove all references to “Taser” in the reports and change the cause of death in McCullaugh’s case from “Homicide” to “Undetermined.”[51

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Case one, probably excessive force, no doubt.
Case two, depends. A bit light on detail, seems odd that the taser did not shut off after delivering the blast, I thought that was some safety feature. Other then that, yea, the officer could have resorted to fists. Also, a bit light on the cause of death.
Case three shows what I think is wrong. They blame the company, the company is found responsible. Did they hide information? Maybe, not stated. Were they used in compliance? Again, no detail.
Case four, what do you want to be said? If she refused to drop the knife, they probably could not approach her. (I am not sure, but I think you are not suppose to approach armed suspects.) I guess they could have shot her in the shoulder like on TV, though that tends to also be fatal. Or just let her go on her merry way.
Case five, no comment.
Case six, there are some valid points to be made. First, the case should likely have not been swapped to Homicide to Undetermined. However, did the medical examiner identify the exact stun gun used? How did she get the brand 100% accurately? It is also unlikely that a good medical examiner would put ‘tasered to death’ on a report. I would imagine it should be more of a ‘stopped heart due to amperage across the organ’ or some such. Of course, that could have very well been the official cause of death, and the lawsuit just muddied it…

Joe says:

Re: Tasers are safe

Anony1 – Dec 30, 2:09 pm

Good rebuttal – not! Start with an ad hominim slur, then quote Wikipedia (the Wikipedia pages on Taser are overrun with anti-Taser fanatics like you). See I can slur too. If you would get your head out of the media echo-chamber and do some elementary research on the subject, you would know that I’m right.

I give you hard numbers such as 600,000 Taser uses during arrests with only a few dozen even found to have contributed to death and you start rolling out a few anecdotal examples. DEAL WITH THE NUMBERS. That’s where the proof of Taser’s safety are.

Anony1 says:

Police don’t get to instigate violence because they want to…

If by your definition grabbing someone’s arm is “instigating violence” as opposed to say, apprehending a defiant individual refusing to obey a lawful order, I’d hate to see what you consider tackeling a suspect to be.
What attempted murder? Are you even a US citizen? If you are, please, please, stop embarassing us. Off topic rants are bad enough, let alone one’s completey devoid of facts.
There are consequences for failing to obey a lawful order by a peace officer in the US. Please educate yourself before choosing to pontificate. The issue at hand is tasers and their abuse. If the abuses being discussed were the abuse of logic then your post would be the perfect example.

Mikey Boy says:

simple….don’t act like an ass if you dont hwanbt to get tased. I have no symphathy for people who don’t obey the law. If you didnt do anything then just comply and explain it to the judge. Resisting is only going to get you more charges and make you look guilty. If you DID do something…then good you ass got tased. Sick of all the idiots.

Christopher (profile) says:

Well, okay, take Tasers out of the equation.

Shall we bring back sap gloves, saps, and nightsticks? Would it be a better story if the kid got punched in his mouth and then cuffed?

Here’s my question to the trolls: how should a police officer gain compliance of a suspect or individual? A reasoned, rational appeal to logic? Pleading? Bribery?

I’m just wondering what kind of police force you’d like to have in an ideal world, and whether that ideal also applies to the citizenry it would protect and serve.


Anony1 says:

not! Start with an ad hominim slur..

You mean calling you what you are is now a slur? I was unaware that facts now constituted slurs..I’ll have to look into that…

then quote Wikipedia..

Ah the old paint Wikipedia as unreliable trick. Nice try.
Any article on Wikipedia is only as good as it’s linked sources. These sources rate from unreliable nonsense to authoritative sources of fact. All of the sources linked for the Taser article on Wikipedia are mainly from newspapers, etc. In other words you try to attack reliable sources here, and it makes you look really desperate, oh, and factually wrong. So while throwing around talking points like “media echo chamber” might make you sound quasi-savy and intelligent, it is esentially itself an ad hominim attack. Then there is the matter of the actual numbers. Those numbers, small or not, point to a very small set of circumstances where Tasers, used incorrectly or not, contributed to someone’s death. This at best points to improper use of the technology, even if there isn’t a fundamental flaw in the safety, which in my opinion hasn’t been answered yet. I am dealing with the numbers, and the jury is still out.

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