Monday, January 22, 2007

Trigger happy with deadly Tasers as well.

First, we have a video of man who is in police custody. Watch it carefully. The man appears drunk to me. He is standing and then goes to sit down. He is not threatening a police officer. He is not violent. He is not verbally aggressive. The officer orders him to stand. The man stands up but then goes back to sit down. He is then shot with the Taser while sitting peacefully several feet away from the police officer. While he was not obeying the order to stand up he was not violent either. This video clearly shows a police officer using the Taser merely to discipline people and not to prevent violence. And what happens after the officer Tasers the man for the sin of sitting down? He then orders the man to sit down.

T.J. McNally of Sarasota, Florida was having a good time before a police officer showed up and used a Taser on him. McNally had friends over for a Independence Day pool party. A swaggering police officer from the local sheriff’s department, Deputy Mark Eve, turned up at the front door and said the music was too loud. The music was then turned down. That ought to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t. The cop wasn’t finished.

No criminal action was implied by the officer against McNally. His own report lays out his case for using a lethal taser (yes, they are lethal as we shall see shortly) against McNally. First, he says he smelled alcohol on McNally’s breath. Now there’s a shocker! It was a party at the man’s own home. That he had some drinks is no surprise but neither is it criminal. He says McNally yelled at him. Oh, poor baby had his ego bruised. And then the clincher, when Barney Fife demanded that McNally provide the officer with his birth date the man walked away from him.

Police officers have the false impression that they are allowed to demand information from people who are not guilty of any crime nor charged with committing a crime. Barney says: “I asked the defendant for his home address, and he again attempted to walk away.” Okay, so Officer Eve is about a dense as they come. He gets a report about loud music at a specific residence. He goes to that residence and then demands that the resident tell him the address. If he didn’t know the address how did he get there in the first place?

Old Barney here says that McNally refused to answer him, was walking away and took “a fighting stance”. Was McNally taking a fighting stance as he was walking away? Or did he walk away and then when he was away from the officer did he stop and take a “fighting stance”. And if he had walked away, even if he had taken a fighting stance, could he have been a threat to the officer. Now if the officer claimed that McNally had walked toward the officer while taking a fighting stance that might be believable. But the officer claims that McNally walked away from him. Walking away from Barney means the man is no threat to the officer. So a man who was no threat, was walking away from the officer, and who had not committed a crime was attacked with a taser by an officer who had a bruised ego.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune says that experts on the law they spoke said that “once the music was turned down, the officer’s investigation should have ended, leaving no reason for the deputy to keep McNally from rejoining the party.” And while Barney Fife tried to file charges against McNally they were dropped. According to McNally’s attorney they were dropped because McNally had no legal obligation to answer the officer’s questions. W.T. Gaut, an expert on the matter, told the paper: “You can’t just issue an order to a citizen and then if the citizen doesn’t comply, use the Taser on them.” Gaut said many police officers are using Tasers like a “cattle prod”.

McNally is now suing the Sheriff’s department and it sounds like he has a good case. He was not under arrest, he complied with the request to turn down the music, he was walking away from the deputy and he was under no legal obligation to undergo questioning about a very minor issue which had already been resolved. Of course the internal sheriff’s investigation said that Deputy Eve the use of force was justified. But they always say that. In the eyes of police departments there is no such thing as copy who gets his jollies inflicting pain on others.

Not even children are immune from trigger happy cops with Tasers. Three police officers in Miami approached a six-year-old child in an elementary school. They said the boy had a piece of glass and threatened to cut his leg. So the officers shot him with a Taser. In another case a 12-year-old girl skipped school. A police officer found her at a swimming pool where she was, hold your hats, smoking. He told her he was taking her to school. She ran away so he shot her with a Taser. He said he was protecting himself and the girl -- she might have run into traffic. In another case police Tasered an 11-year-old child who was fighting with another student. Apparently police officers are too fragile to pull two fighting children apart without shocking them with 50,000 volts of electricity.

Two arguments have been used to justify Taser usage. One is that they are not deadly and two is that they reduce the likelihood of police officers shooting and killing people. Both arguments are defective.

Andrew Athetis was 18 years old. He was not in frail health. According to the Arizona Republic the man had no criminal history. He began acting “erratically” and told a woman his name and told her to call the police. He then hit her and took her keys and ran away. Athetis ignored orders by the police and they used the Taser on him. They say he struggled a bit then went into “medical distress”. He was taken to hospital and died. Since 1999 to 2005 there were 167 deaths attributed to the “non-deadly” weapon. And the company that produces the weapon is currently facing 50 wrongful death law suits.

In early January a former school teacher, Blondel Lassegue, 38, died after police used a Taser on him. Lasseque had mental problems and had stopped taking his medicines. In Fort Pierce, Florida, also in early January, Douglas Ilten of Nashville, Tenn, was supposedly acting erratically and threw some musical instruments out of a rental truck. Police arrested him and tried to put leg restraints on him which he resisted. So they used the non-deadly Taser on the man who then died.

A few days before those incidents in Gastonia, North Carolina a 42-year-old man, Calvin Thompson was seen running down the street nude. He didn’t obey police orders to stop so they used the non-lethal Taser on him. He became unconscious and then died a few minutes later. In Paradise, California, according to the Mercury-Register a man was shot with a Taser on January 2 and then died as a result.

Pete Madrid, 44, was stopped by police because they said he was walking barefoot and carrying his shoes. So they interrogated him over this heinous crime and said he appeared to be under the influence of narcotics (hmm, notice that cops are under the influence of power). Madrid walked away from them and other police officers grabbed him. He struggled so they used the Taser. He went unconscious, was rushed to the hospital and then died.

With a very limited search on my part that is six incidents of people who died as the result of police using the “non-lethal” Taser on them in just the last three weeks.

Houston, Texas has a problem in that their police officers are infamous for killing unarmed citizens. So in 2004 they spent $4.7 million to purchase Tasers. (Good lord, how much does these non-lethal deadly weapons cost?) The explanation for the purchase was that by giving police officers Tasers to play with they would be less likely to kill civilians. Tasers will save lives!

The Houston Chronicle said that in Houston this has not been the case.

Since the Houston Police Department armed itself with Tasers, touted as a way to reduce deadly police shootings, officers have shot, wounded and killed as many people as before the widespread use of the stun guns, a Houston Chronicle analysis shows.

The paper reports that in the last two years the police have used the Tasers more than 1,000 times, “but in 95 percent of those cases they were not used to defuse situations in which suspects wielded weapons and deadly force clearly would have been justified.” Instead more than half such incidents “escalated from relatively common police calls, such as traffic stops, disturbances and nuisance complaints, and reports of suspicious cases.” What is very, very scary is that” In more than 350 cases, no crime was committed.

In Houston that would mean that about one out every three victims of police Tasers was completely innocent of any crime whatsoever! And the newspaper found that of those charged with a crime “most were accused of misdemeanours or non-violent felonies.”

In the most stunning display of “police reasoning” Police Chief Hurtt says: “When people are charged with minor crimes or non-violent crimes, maybe the reason is because they were stopped before they committed a much more serious offense.” Hurtt wins this weeks Moron of the Week award. Hurtt is the first police chief to arm all police officers with Tasers.

Look at the wonder of his irrational “logic”. Police use Tasers on non-violent people by using the Tasers they are preventing violence. I guess by the same logic he would say that the 350 innocent people Tasered by his cops were innocent because the Taser stopped them before they committed a crime.

With no reduction in police killings of unarmed citizens it appears that the police are using Tasers on top of the use of their guns not as a replacement for them. Where a police officer is reluctant to shot someone, for instance when no crime was committed, they aren’t so reluctant to Taser them.

It appears that cops who are trigger happy with guns are also trigger happy with Tasers. Is anyone surprised? Tasers are like taxes. Government may introduce a tax saying it is to replace a more onerous tax but in the end they end up using both. Tasers in Houstin, at least, aren’t replacing the over use of deadly force. They are being used in addition to deadly force and used in cases where they are rarely justified.

Note: For those not familiar with the old TV show Mayberry, R.F.D, Deputy Barney Fife was the bungling deputy sheriff enamoured with his own authority but lacking the brains to wield that authority.

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