Non-lethal force. Saving lives. Who can argue with that. Well, in the United States, Amnesty International now reports that 500 people have been killed by Tasers employed by law enforcement officials. I imagine if they had a voice they might have something to say about the rampant use of this weapon (and yes, it is a weapon) that took from them (to paraphrase the character William Munny in the film Unforgiven) everything they ever had on this earth and everything they were ever going to have.

According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail. Amnesty International recorded the largest number of deaths following the use of Tasers in California (92), followed by Florida (65), and Texas (37). The Oklahoma City Police Department led all law enforcement agencies in deaths (7) following by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, Harris County Sheriff’s (Tx), Phoenix, Az and San Jose, Ca., all with six deaths.

On Monday, Johnnie Kamahi Warren was the latest to die after a police officer in Dothan, Al. deployed a Taser on him at least twice. The 43-year-old, who was unarmed and allegedly intoxicated, reportedly stopped breathing shortly after being shocked and was pronounced dead in a hospital less than two hours later. […]

In a 2008 report, USA: Stun weapons in law enforcement, Amnesty International examined data on hundreds of deaths following Taser use, including autopsy reports in 98 cases and studies on the safety of such devices.

Among the cases reviewed, 90 percent of those who died were unarmed. Many of the victims were subjected to multiple shocks.

Well (I hear some say), they had it coming. They got what they deserved. To which I say, we all have it coming. But did an intoxicated Johnnie Kamahi Warren deserve to be tasered twice, and be declared dead on arrival at the hospital because he got in a bar fight?

(cont.)

A Houston County Sheriff’s deputy has been placed on paid administrative leave after a Georgia man died early Monday during a struggle with authorities outside a local bar.

Dothan Police Chief Greg Benton said the incident occurred when officers responded to a report of a drunk and disorderly person at Houligans bar. [..]

Hughes said a sheriff’s deputy was close by, and when he arrived he saw three men struggling with what appeared to be an intoxicated patron on the ground outside the business.

“When he got to the scene, he deployed a Taser in an attempt to get him under control,” Hughes said.

To get him under control? Johnnie was on the ground with three people on top of him and the officer needed to use a taser to get him under control?

Or lets talk about Baron Pikes. Does anyone here remember Baron Pikes? He was already under arrest in the small town of Winnfield, Louisiana. He was handcuffed. He was sitting on the ground. So why was he tased? Here’s what the arresting officer’s report and eyewitnesses said:

Moreover, Pikes did not resist arrest, and he was handcuffed while lying on the ground, according to Nugent’s police report of the incident. It was only after Pikes refused Nugent’s command to stand up that the officer applied the first Taser shock in the middle of his back, Nugent wrote.

Several more Taser shocks followed quickly, Nugent stated, because Pikes kept falling down and refusing to get back up. Grocery shoppers who witnessed the incident later told Pikes’ family that he had pleaded with Nugent: “Please, you all got me. Please don’t Tase me again.”

Baron Pikes was tased 9 times over a 14 minute period on the way to the police station. The last two occurred when he was unconscious. Why was he tased at all? Because, while handcuffed, he didn’t get up off the ground fast enough in the arresting officer’s opinion. Why did the officer keep tasing him? God only knows.

[Coroner] Williams said police records showed Nugent administered nine Taser shocks to Pikes over a 14-minute period. The last two jolts, delivered as police pulled Pikes from a patrol car at the police station, elicited no reaction because the suspect was unconscious …

Police have used tasers to “subdue” an 86 year old bed ridden invalid and people who are having diabetic seizures. Why? Not because they were an imminent threat of harm to anyone but because they didn’t obey the officer’s orders quickly enough. They have used tasers on a 66 year old man with dementia who had already been beaten to a pulp by a police officer and was on the ground (i.e., Albert Flowers).

Once Flowers was on the ground, another officer, identified as Howard Knauf, walked up and Tasered Flowers in the upper body as Middendorf worked to control him. Officers noted that Flowers was mumbling and speaking incoherently.

Go watch the video posted in my former diary to see for yourself whether Mr. Flowers required to be tasered. You you believe that further use of a taser was necessary after he had already been attacked by the police officer who intiated the assault against Mr. Flowers, well, perhaps you work for Taser International, or you are simply someone who thinks whatever the police do is correct no matter what the result to the individual they are “taking down.”

Here’s another recent example (January, 2012) of a man already in custody who was tased multiple times and then “inexplicably” suffered a medical emergency. It happened in Colton California and the man’s name was Hutalio Serrano and here is his story as told by witnesses to the event, including his daughter:

Serrano’s daughter Biviana said she witnessed her father on the ground yelling for police to stop as police officers continued to use a taser him. His stepson, Eddie Hernandez, also witnessed Serrano’s pleas for officers to stop using the stun gun on him. Another eyewitness, Kelly Martinez, stated he came upon the scene while walking home. According to Martinez, he saw police officers use a taser on Serrano at least four times while Serrano plead for help. He also said he did not believe Serrano posed any threat to police.

Despite that Serrano reportedly never threatened officers on the scene, the Colton Police Department claims Serrano died while resisting arrest. Police also stated Serrano was tasered three times, all of which were necessary to subdue and handcuff the man. According to the Colton Police Department, Serrano was hospitalized as soon as officers realized he was having a medical emergency. Serrano was pronounced dead approximately one hour after the incident with police.

There are so many stories of people dying after tasers have been used on them by police. Allen Kephart in May 2011 was tased after running a stoplight and becoming (according to the police) “combative and uncooperative.” Well, we all know what that means, even little old ladies and grandmothers, such as this one:

Did you hear that large police officer after he tased her? “Put your hands behind your back or you’ll be tased again!” Was she a threat to him? Of course not. And therein lies the problem.

Tasers are not merely used to subdue dangerous individuals who pose an imminent threat of harm to the police. More often than not they have been used by the police officers as a compliance tool or as a means to torture people, people who are already subdued, or who pose no threat to anyone. We’ve known this for a long time. For example, the case of Darrin Ring, who was beaten and tased while in jail in Tennessee while shackled, a case which led to an investigation by the Tennessee authorities and the FBI:

The FBI and TBI served federal grand jury subpoenas to the sheriff’s department. Those subpoenas could include jailers, deputies and Sheriff Chris Davis, as well as all records, files and computers.

Larry Barbee is one of two inmates who has told the TBI that Ring was beaten and Tasered in jail while shackled.

“We’re in a four-man cell and right across the hall is a single cell. We have a window that we can see outside in the hallway,” said Barbee in an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News. “We heard a big commotion going on. They bring Darrin in and it was like four or five deputies, the sheriff was one of them, and they’ve got Darrin wrapped in a blanket, dragging him down the hall.”

Ring was still not dressed after deputies stripped off his clothes in the initial attack at his home.

“The sheriff was over here and had his hands on the cement bench and was going down with his knee over and over,” said Barbee, demonstrating the sheriff’s actions. “Deputy Tim Hedge was standing on top of Darrin’s head.”

Barbee said a young female jailer entered the area and told a Waverly police officer, Kinta Bell, that she had never seen anyone Tased. That officer then Tasered Ring.

“Officer [Joe] Parnell goes in there and grabs him by the head, tells him to stand up at first,” said Barbee. “He can’t stand up because his hands are handcuffed to his feet. He can’t stand up.”

“[Parnell] keeps telling him to [stand up] and he said he can’t. So he grabbed his head and rammed it into the wall, and then Officer Bell comes in from behind and Tases him.”

As the Arizona chapter of the ACLU pointed out in its 2011 report regarding the abuse of tasers by Arizona law enforcement:

[A]ll too often, Tasers are used “preemptively” against citizens that do not present an imminent safety threat, and even offensively as a pain compliance tool. What’s more, both TASER International training materials and agency policies anticipate that officers will use the weapon as a pain compliance tool.

That, in rather bland understated prose, defines the nature of the problem. Tasers are not treated as guns, i.e., as a potentially lethal weapon, that should be used sparingly. Police departments often train their officers to use tasers as if they pose no risk to the lives of citizens, and therefore can be used in situations in which a gun would never be used: when people are handcuffed, when they “mouth off” to police officers, when they are doing nothing more than writhing on the ground yelling “Please stop, you got me!” In short whenever a police officer wants to inflict pain on someone for any reason or for no reason at all.

Do police run risks everyday? Yes. It’s a tough job and I admire those police officers who carry out their duties professionally and truly protect and serve the public. However, police deaths has been decreasing over the last several decades, not rising.

Moreover, experts note and statistics indicate that police officers today appear appreciably less likely to be killed in the line of duty than they were decades ago.

“Police shootings are very, very rare events in this country,” said Peter Manning, a professor at Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice. […]

For instance, in the last three years of the 1980s, 74, 78 and 66 law enforcement officers were killed — compared to 58, 41 and 48 killed annually over the tail end of the 2000s, the most recent decade. Taking the average of those two three-year subsets equates to a roughly 48% decrease in the past 20 years.

Yet, during the last decade the use of tasers has risen rapidly. It’s a rare day that goes by when you cannot find a story regarding the use of a taser by law enforcement officials. In most cases the individual tased by the police is not armed. Instead, the taser has become the preferred method for causing pain to individuals, whether they are in the process of being arrested or after they have been arrested. All to often, police officers and police departments have a “tase first and tase often” mentality. Hey, it’s a non-lethal method of force, right?

Well that’s what proponents of frequent taser use will tell you. The 500 people who have died, and the countless others who have suffered serious injuries? Well the dead don’t talk, and the media doesn’t cover stories about taser abuse that extensively. Unless there is video of a particular egregious case, it’s usually a one day story at best. Rick Santorum vomits when he reads JFK’s speech or President Obama apologizes for the deliberate burning of the Qu’ran and its a 24/7 news coverage by the national news media. Somebody dies from being tasered by the police, its a story that may or may not be covered by your local TV news. Meanwhile use of tasers by police and the number of deaths related to the use of this lethal “non-lethal” weapon continues to grow.

This is the “new normal” folks. It could happen to you or to someone you care about. Any run in with the police, even one in which you have done nothing wrong, could result in a taser being used on you and possibly may result in your death. And you will have no idea if the police officer who approaches you is reasonable and professional, or one who is trigger happy when it comes to shooting your body with 30-50 thousand volts of electricity. No idea whatsoever.

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