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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Deadly taser use demands thorough, open investigation

March 26, 2008
News-Record, Greensboro, North Carolina

A police officer doesn't use a Taser when deadly force is needed. So when a stun gun kills, as it did last week in Charlotte, something went wrong. There must be a thorough and transparent investigation to find out why.

The victim was Darryl Wayne Turner, only 17. He was having an angry argument with his supervisor at a grocery store when police were called. An officer arrived, and a "highly agitated" Turner "advanced" at the officer, refusing commands to stop, police said. The officer responded with the Taser. Turned collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The Taser is a legitimate tool for police officers who need to subdue someone without using a firearm. It's not considered life-threatening -- yet it obviously has the potential to kill. For that reason, officers faced with the choice of using a Taser or not must consider the worst possibility and make absolutely certain of the necessity.

Officers who assume a weapon won't cause serious harm might be too quick to use it. But that's not a safe assumption about a Taser.

An investigation must determine whether there were medical factors or other circumstances that contributed to Turner's death. It also must review the events that led to the officer's decision. Would some other action have been better? These questions have to be answered openly.

Tasers are employed widely by law-enforcement agencies. They're carried by officers on some Guilford County school campuses. Parents, and the general public, deserve to know about the lethal potential of these weapons, and they need to be satisfied that well-trained officers will use them only when absolutely required.

When someone dies, particularly a young person, it's critical to know why it happened and how it could have been avoided.

See also:
Witness vs. police on taser death
Teen who died after taser shot had pot

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