Thursday, July 21, 2011

City should suspend Taser use

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 11:25 AM

The parents of Darryl Turner were awarded $10 million by a jury yesterday as a result of their lawsuit against Taser International. Turner was a 17-year-old Charlottean who died of cardiac arrest three years ago after being shocked with a Taser by a Charlotte police officer. The $10 million judgment is the biggest jury award ever rendered against the company and, although the amount may be trimmed later on appeal, it’s still a major victory for critics of the company and its product. Tasers, or stun guns, are routinely touted by the company and law enforcement officials nationwide as an effective “non-lethal alternative" — although, as we wrote in 2008 after Turner’s death, for a non-lethal alternative, Tasers sure seem to be killing a lot of people.

As if to prove the point, another person in Charlotte died yesterday after being Tasered by a police officer on Woodlawn Road. For Charlotte police, the latest Taser-related death couldn’t come at a worse time, i.e., the very day that Darryl Turner’s parents’ lawsuit ended, reminding the public of CMPD’s role in Turner’s death. What struck me as particularly galling, not to say darkly ironic, is that the daily paper’s report on the Turner family’s court victory goes to unusual lengths to explain how CMPD supposedly learned from Turner’s death and has tightened restrictions on Taser use. Documented evidence makes it pretty clear that too many police officers in the U.S. are relying on Tasers as a way to subdue uncooperative suspects, including the more than 140 deaths detailed by the Arizona Republic in 2006. Remember the 75-year-old grandmother who was Tasered by a Rock Hill officer in 2005? Or the Lancaster, S.C., inmate who died after being hit with six consecutive shocks from a Taser? But have you heard about the 9-year-old girl in handcuffs in Tucson? How about the pregnant Illinois woman who was Tasered in her abdomen? Or the guy in Utah who was Tasered for refusing to sign his traffic ticket? Or the 14-year-old girl in New Mexico who was Tasered in the head? Or any of the other hundreds of examples of police using a Taser to save themselves the trouble of subduing someone normally, i.e., in a way that won't potentially kill him? To say the very least, Tasers are controversial weapons and are becoming more controversial all the time as injuries, deaths, misuse and lawsuits pile up.

Considering all that, as well as the inconclusive nature of available research, this seems like a good time to renew the call for City Council to direct CMPD to quit using Tasers until more definitive research has been conducted on whether Taser use is ever safe. Here's a video of the man who didn't want to sign his traffic ticket being Tasered; it happens at around the 8-minute mark.

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