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Sunday, February 27, 2011

EDITORIAL: Reaffirm policy on Taser use

February 27, 2011
The Town Talk

The Lafayette Parish Coroner's Office has issued its report on the death of Javon Rakestrau, 28, who died in October after being Tasered by a Lafayette Parish sheriff's deputy. The report says Rakestrau died of complications of bronchial asthma, and that the stress of his arrest and the Tasering contributed to the death.

Rakestrau's blood contained a chemical indicating that he had smoked marijuana.

The finding is consistent with coroners' findings in similar cases, although we'd note that cases in which suspects die soon after Tasering seem to dwarf the number of deaths that occur as a result of asthma, cardiac problems or other conditions in arrests that don't involve Tasers. Rakestrau's death is one of at least 15 in Louisiana among suspects subjected to Tasering since 2004.

Lafayette Parish, with less than 5 percent of the state's population, accounts for three of them.

We'd urge local law enforcement agencies to take this opportunity to make sure officers know Tasers are to be used as an alternative to deadly force. The mounting list of deaths after arrests involving Tasers makes their use too risky for any other application, at least until more data can be collected and analyzed.

The Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office has said the deputy involved in the Rakestrau arrest acted properly and within policy. The deputy performed first aid on Rakestrau until an ambulance arrived.

The video from the deputy's patrol car shows an arrest in a known drug trafficking area.

The deputy places Rakestrau against the hood of the patrol car, apparently to be frisked. Rakestrau reaches into his jacket pocket. He appears to try to throw something on the ground. Was it a weapon?

It doesn't seem to be, although the suspect's body shields it from the deputy. The deputy pulls Rakestrau away from the car, and they end up on the ground and mostly off camera. A few seconds later, they're both on their feet again, and the deputy shocks Rakestrau with the Taser.

If the deputy's use of a Taser was an alternative to the justifiable use of a firearm, then Rakestrau had a chance to live that he wouldn't have had otherwise, even though the suspect didn't act sensibly during the arrest.

The Taser becomes a humanitarian tool.

If the Taser is used for a lesser purpose, it becomes a tool with potentially lethal consequences that neither the law enforcement officer nor the suspect is in a position to predict.

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