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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Judge releases cellblock video of alleged mistreatment by Ottawa police

July 28, 2011
Steve Rennie, Canadian Press (via Globe and Mail)

A cellblock video has been released that captures the arrest of a woman who claims Ottawa police injured and strip-searched her before leaving her naked in a cell without medical attention.

Roxanne Carr was arrested and charged with assaulting police, obstructing police and damaging property in 2008. Those charges were dropped in April.

She is now suing the police department over their treatment of her during her arrest.

Several media outlets, including The Canadian Press, went to court to have the video released. Last week, an Ontario Court judge agreed to release the footage, but court workers couldn't find the video in the case file. A duplicate copy was released Thursday.

The incident is broken up into 26 video clips showing Ms. Carr's arrest from several different angles.

In the videos, officers drag a handcuffed Ms. Carr, who is wearing a black tank top and dark pants, from a police car through the hallways of the cellblock.

Ms. Carr's arms are cuffed behind her back. She does not appear to resist.

Two officers hold her by the elbows and lead her into a room with a counter. They lower her head-first onto the floor. Her head comes off the floor and falls back onto it as they shift her body.

She is lying face down when the officers remove her handcuffs. Then, they take two objects from her hair or neck and toss them onto a nearby counter. One officer kneels on Ms. Carr's back as the police wrap a strap around her arms. They then hoist her to her feet and walk her to a cell.

The videos do not have any sound.

There is no camera inside Ms. Carr's cell. At one point, a white gown is tossed from one of the cells. Later, an officer leads Ms. Carr, who is now wearing a white gown, from her cell to retrieve her clothes from a bin. She gets changed in another room.

The video shows Ms. Carr, again in the black shirt and pants, standing at a counter signing documents. She leaves the cellblock, stops in a stairwell to put her hair in a ponytail, and leaves the station.

It is not clear from the videos if she is in any pain.

She claims her arm was broken during the arrest and that she was dropped on her head.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“It's clear from the video that there's not an instance, not a muscle of resistance. And despite that, there's six police officers hog-tying her and then leading her on a leash to the cell, taking her clothes and leaving her naked for at least an hour,” said Lawrence Greenspon, Carr's lawyer.

“It's a very disturbing video. I shudder to think if people treat people like this when they know they're on video, how do they treat people when they know they're not?”

In a statement released this week, Ottawa Police Acting Chief Gilles Larochelle noted the Ontario Special Investigations Unit and the Ottawa Police Service's Professional Standards Unit both probed the incident and did not lay charges or find any misconduct.

“I am satisfied that cellblock officers handled the custody of Roxanne Carr with the utmost professionalism, especially when faced with a crisis in the cell,” Mr. Larochelle's statement says.

The Carr case has similarities to another case in which an Ottawa police officer was charged with sexual assault after a woman's much-publicized arrest.

The Special Investigations Unit was called in after video showed a special constable kneeing Stacy Bonds while she was being booked at police headquarters Sept. 6, 2008.

The video also showed male officers holding Ms. Bonds down while another officer cut off her clothes the night she was arrested for a liquor offence.

Ms. Bonds was subsequently charged with assaulting a police officer, but Ontario Court Justice Richard Lajoie stayed proceedings in her case after seeing the video.

Other elements of the Ms. Bonds video, along with several other videos showing different cases of alleged police brutality, are still under investigation by various agencies.

15 Years in Prison For Taping the Cops? How Eavesdropping Laws Are Taking Away Our Best Defense Against Police Brutality

July 27, 2011
By Rania Khalek, Alternet

Rania Khalek is a progressive activist. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on Twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.

Over Memorial Day weekend this past May, residents of Miami Beach witnessed a horrific display of police brutality as 12 cops sprayed Raymond Herisse's car with 100 bullets, killing him. The shooting provoked outrage in the surrounding community, not only because of the murder, but because of what the police did afterward.

Officers on the scene confiscated and smashed witnesses' cell phones; later, when they were confronted by the media, the police denied trying to destroy videos of the incident.

But 35-year-old Narces Benoit removed his HTC EVO’s SIM card and hid it in his mouth. He later sold the video to CNN, placing the police in the awkward position of explaining why they lied about allegations of cell phone destruction. More importantly, the video showed at least two officers pointing guns at Benoit, demanding that he stop filming.

Police brutality takes many forms around the country on a regular basis, particularly in poor and minority neighborhoods. Sometimes, the only method of accountability is a victim’s word (if they are still alive) against that of an officer. Unsurprisingly, the police officer’s version of the story is often adequate for a judge to dismiss allegations of wrongdoing, unless there is hard evidence of misconduct, such as a video or audio recording, which can be useful to unravel conflicting versions of police-citizen encounters.

Due to advancements in technology, the average citizen carries a digital camera in his or her pocket or purse, creating a potential army of amateur videographers on every street corner. A quick YouTube search of "police brutality" lists endless videos, often cell phone footage, of what appear to be police acting with unnecessary and violent force. Some of those videos have served a crucial role in bringing charges against brutality that may have gone unaddressed had it not been for bystanders recording.

One would think the fear of videographers on every block would be a powerful deterrent to police misconduct. However, legislatures are not taking this newfound power against police abuse lightly. In at least three states, it is illegal to record any on-duty police officer, even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists. The legal justification is usually based on the warped interpretation of existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited.

Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland are among the 12 states where all parties must consent for a recording to be legal. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested and charged with a felony. Most all-party consent states (except Illinois and Massachusetts) include a "privacy provision" that says a violation occurs only when the offended party has a reasonable expectation that the conversation is private. This is meant to protect TV news crews and people who record public meetings — where it is obvious to all that recording is underway — from accidentally committing a felony.

Massachusetts and Illinois are the only states that do not recognize an expectation-to-privacy provision to their all-party consent laws. While courts in Massachusetts have generally held that secretly recording police is illegal, recording them openly is not. Illinois, on the other hand, is the only state where the legislature specifically amended the state's wiretapping law to make it illegal to record on-duty police officers without their consent, even in public.

Cases Keep Piling Up

Recording on-duty police officers has gained momentum in states around the country for some time now. But it's only in the last few years, after several high-profile incidents, that the topic has begun to generate nationwide headlines and debate.

Two of these incidents occurred in Maryland last year, just weeks apart.

One involved Jack McKenna, who was arrested by Prince George's county police last March and charged with assault and resisting arrest when he was out celebrating the University of Maryland basketball victory over Duke. Fortunately for him, his fellow Terps fans happened to record the encounter on their cell phones, showing riot police throwing McKenna against a wall and beating him with batons. Once the videos appeared on the Internet, Prince George's County suspended the officers and dropped the charges against McKenna.

The second incident took place last April, when Maryland State Trooper David Uhler pulled over Anthony Graber for speeding and reckless driving. Graber had swerved across several lanes and did at least one wheelie on his motorcycle while driving 80mph. Graber had a video camera mounted to his motorcycle helmet that was recording at the time of the stop, and captured footage of Uhler, dressed in plainclothes while yelling with his gun in hand.

Although Graber was only given a traffic ticket, he posted the video on YouTube to publicize Uhler's threatening behavior. Maryland State police responded by raiding Graber's home, confiscating his computer and charging him with two felonies. One was for violating Maryland's wiretapping law by recording a trooper without his consent, and the other was for "possession of an intercept device," a provision intended for bugs and wiretaps but in this case referred to Graber's video camera. As a result, Graber faced up to 16 years in prison for recording a police officer during a public traffic stop.

Graber's case was ultimately dismissed, as are almost all of these cases, on the grounds that on-duty cops have no such expectation of privacy, which is in accordance with every court in the country that has considered the issue. Because there is no legal justification, the charges are usually dropped or never filed at all. But that doesn't stop the arrests. Radley Balko points out that, more often than not, police arrest photographers for obstructing law enforcement even in states that have no wiretapping law:

“In addition to arresting citizens with cameras for wiretapping, police can use vaguer catch-all charges, such as interfering with a police officer, refusing to obey a lawful order, or obstructing an arrest or police action. Such arrests are far more common. Even more frequent are incidents where police don’t make arrests but illegally confiscate cameras, delete photos and videos, or incorrectly warn camera-wielding citizens that they aren’t allowed to film.”

One such encounter took place earlier this year, when a California man, who recorded a police officer arresting someone at gunpoint down the street, found himself handcuffed as well. Lonell Duchine was videotaping the arrest on his cell phone from inside his garage, when an officer pulled up to his home and demanded the phone for evidence. Duchine refused, so the police officer arrested him, citing “police interference” for withholding evidence.

While illegal confiscation happens in a range of scenarios, from traffic stops to people's homes, the most famous example was on New Year’s day 2009, when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle shot 21-year-old Oscar Grant at point-blank range, as he lay face down in an Oakland subway station, allegedly resisting arrest. The incident captured the nation's attention not simply because an unarmed black man was publicly killed by a white police officer, but also because dozens of onlookers captured it on their cell phones for the world to see.

In California, police are not permitted to confiscate a phone unless the phone was used in a crime. Nonetheless, after the incident BART police attempted to confiscate the phones of subway riders, and even chased one camera-wielder onto a subway car. Had a bystander not been equipped with his cell phone, charges may not have been brought against Mehserle, demonstrating the crucial role video recording can play in accountability. Since then there have been multiple incidents of police brutality recorded by cell phones, which may have otherwise gone unaddressed.

The most pernicious prosecutions to date have taken place in Illinois, where the sentence for recording a police officer is considered a class 1 felony — on par with a rape charge — and can land a person behind bars for more than a decade.

Tiawonda Moore from Chicago, Illinois, faces up to 15 years in prison for using her Blackberry to record two Internal Affairs investigators who spoke to her inside police headquarters. She was there last August to file a sexual harassment complaint against another officer, who she alleges had fondled her and left his personal telephone number when he was at her home investigating a domestic dispute. She says the police department actively discouraged her from filing a report, so out of frustration, she began to record the conversations on her phone. Although the case initially received national media coverage, attention has since died down as 21-year-old Moore awaits a trial date that continues to be pushed back.

Michael Allison is another Illinois resident facing the wrath of the eavesdropping law. The 41-year-old mechanic from Bridgeport faces four counts of violating the eavesdropping law, which adds up to a possible 75-year sentence. Allison believed the local police were harassing him in retaliation for a lawsuit he'd filed against the city over a local zoning ordinance, so he began to record his conversations with them.

Allison was eventually charged with violating the zoning ordinance. When he was told there would be no record of his trial, he informed court officials that he would record his trial with a digital recorder. This prompted the judge to have him arrested on the day of his trial, for violating her right to privacy. After confiscating Allison's digital recorder, the police found the recordings between Allison and the cops.

Christopher Drew, a 60-year-old artist and teacher, is also being prosecuted for violating the eavesdropping law. Drew was arrested in December 2009 for selling art without a permit on the streets of Chicago. He recorded his arrest, and now faces four to 15 years for documenting the incident.

These are just a handful of cases that illustrate the danger that comes with recording police in public. Carlos Miller, a journalist who has been arrested twice for photographing the police, has documented hundreds of similar cases on his blog, Photography is Not a Crime.

What Do the Police Think?

In the most comprehensive article to date about recording the police —" The War on Cameras" — Radley Balko interviewed James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which describes itself as "the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers." Pasco argues that videotaping police officers in public should be illegal because it can intimidate officers from doing their jobs. Mark Donahue, president of FOP, concurs, telling the New York Times that his organization “absolutely supports” the eavesdropping act and was relieved that the ACLU's challenge filed last year failed, adding that allowing the audio recording of police officers while performing their duty “can affect how an officer does his job on the street.”

Police officers are not a monolith, so while there are many, like Pasco and Donahue, who support these laws, there are also many who doubtless oppose them. At the same time, police apprehension about being videotaped on the job is understandable, especially with the advancement in cell-phone technology increasing at record speed. Some also worry that their actions will be preserved and used against them in ways that weren't possible just a few years ago, while others are simply uncomfortable being videotaped.

However, when considering recent developments in police surveillance, Pasco's argument is rather baffling. In stark contrast to the laws banning citizens from monitoring police misconduct with recording devices, police officers are equipped with top-of-line surveillance cameras in their cars and on their uniforms. According to a recent AP report, hundreds of police departments across the country are equipping officers with tiny body cameras to record anything from a traffic stop to a hot vehicle pursuit to an unfolding violent crime. The mini cameras have even spawned a new cable reality TV series, "Police POV," which uses police video from Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Fort Smith, Ark.

The cameras are intended to provide more transparency and security to officers on the street and to reduce the number of misconduct complaints and potential lawsuits. Which begs the question: what is the difference between these cameras and the footage captured by citizens in public? Why is it acceptable for police officers to record, but not citizens? Aren't the uniform and dashboard cameras, which unlike citizen recordings document police actions all through the day, intimidating police from doing their jobs, just as Pasco suggested?


Pasco goes on to suggest that we have to "put faith and trust in our authority figures," which is the absolute antithesis of a functioning democracy and the US constitution, which rests on transparency and accountability.

As usual, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken the lead in challenging these laws. In August of last year, the ACLU of Illinois filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago challenging the Illinois Eavesdropping Act (ACLU v. Anita Alvarez), arguing that the act violates the First Amendment and has been used to thwart people who simply want to monitor police activity, including the ACLU itself. The Illinois law is unique in that it makes it a crime to record not only private but also public conversations made without consent of all parties. In the lawsuit, the ACLU pointed to six Illinois residents who have faced felony charges after being accused of violating the state’s eavesdropping law for recording police making arrests in public venues.

Although the lawsuit was dismissed in January, the ACLU has appealed the suit and expects to begin making oral arguments sometime in the fall. Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney with the Illinois Chapter of the ACLU, explained why the eavesdropping law is unconstitutional:

"The First Amendment protects the right to gather information for the purpose of sharing it with other people and for the purpose of using it to petition government for redress of grievances. And so for a long time courts have protected the right to record by various means what government officials are doing in public, so the press can publish that and so that citizens can use it to petition government.

"When we talk about police officers doing their jobs in public, we’re talking about very important government activity which is often used properly but sometimes is abused, and it’s very important that citizens have the ability to document what police are doing so they can seek improvement in police policy and the like… therefore, the first amendment protects the right to make audio-recordings of on duty police officers who are doing their jobs in public places."

Schwartz went on to compare audio-recording to other forms of documentation that, although less efficient, are not illegal:

"We believe that a police officer who is doing their job in a public place does not have an expectation of privacy. Even the police can see that if they’re arresting somebody on a corner, other people can watch….they don’t dispute that someone can stand a small distance away and watch, or that the person who’s watching can take out a pen and take notes or on what they’re seeing, or that they can take photographs of what they’re seeing or that they can make a silent video recording of what they’re seeing. The addition of the audio is a very powerful way for citizens to ensure that police officers are turning square corners."

Schwartz also emphasized that resolving disputing testimonies with citizen recording, while important, is not the only benefit to overturning the eavesdropping law:

"If police officers are doing their jobs in public places, for example policing a demonstration and something goes awry, it is very valuable for there to be a strong record, including audio of what happened, so that if there is a need to change the rules, the public can go to the government and say "look what happened, change the rules about how police officers are enforcing the peace at a political demonstration."

The court's decision in this case is said to be critically important in setting a precedent that will either protect or endanger newsgatherers‘ constitutional rights to monitor and record police misconduct. Schwartz said the ACLU is "cautiously optimistic" about the eventual ruling, which is expected to be handed down sometime in 2012.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Caught on tape: Police beat and taser 'gentle' mentally-ill homeless man to death

July 5, 2011: Kelly Thomas, 37, Fullerton, California

... Eye witnesses at the scene claim the six officers tasered him five times and beat him beyond recognition, which the disturbing photo of him in hospital shows.

Mark Turgeon, who was there, said: 'They kept beating him and tasering him. I could hear zapping, and he wasn't even moving.

'He had one arm in front of him like this, he wasn't resisting. And they kept telling him, "He's resisting, quit resisting", and he wasn't resisting.'

Winnipeg police lose ANOTHER taser cartridge!!!

July 27, 2011
CBC News

For the second time in less than a week, Winnipeg police have lost a Taser cartridge.

The device fell off an officer's uniform Tuesday evening. The officer was patrolling the St. James and downtown areas at the time. The cartridge, an approximately 1.5-square-inch device, is not the electric stun gun's firing unit but does contain the probe wires. Police are urging anyone who finds it, to not pick it up. If placed in a pocket, for instance, a buildup of static could activate it, causing the electric probes to be propelled. Anyone who finds the cartridge is asked to contact police immediately. Another cartridge was lost on Sunday but safely recovered after being found inside a police station. Last year, the police service issued warnings on five occasions after the same type of cartridges fell off patrol officers' belts.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

NOT AGAIN!!! Winnipeg police lose Taser cartridge

Tsk tsk tsk - Winnipeg police lost FIVE taser cartridges in 2010 and TWO so far this year!! How hard can it be??

Winnipeg police are appealing to the public for help after an officer lost a Taser cartridge in the city's north end.

Police are advising anyone who finds the piece of equipment — which is used to fire the weapon — to contact them immediately.

"Taser has advised us that electronic static build-up in a pocket has been known to activate the cartridge, so in other words activate the electronic discharge that usually comes from the gun itself," said Duty Insp. Scott Halley.

The officer who lost the device was on duty in Division 13, an area policed by the station at 260 Hartford Ave.

Police say the cartridge is in a pouch and that a search is ongoing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The disgrace of Ottawa’s Third World police force

July 22, 2011
Chris Selley, National Post

On Tuesday, a judge ordered the release of police video that, according to Roxanne Carr, shows her being roughed up and left naked in a cell by Ottawa police officers. The ruling came over strong protests from both police and the Crown, and with the support of both Ms. Carr and local media outlets, who argued, correctly, that the public needs to see what happened in the lockup — not least because the charges against Ms. Carr have inexplicably been dropped (likely because of what’s on the tape, the judge concluded). It’s especially important to see the video because the local police have gained a reputation for doing to people exactly the sort of thing Ms. Carr alleges was done to her. Indeed, one of the officers she accuses has been charged with sexually assaulting another woman while she was in police custody in 2008.

Unfortunately, in what an Ottawa Citizen editorial called a “weird twist,” the DVD in question has gone missing from the court file. Shucks, don’t you just hate it when that happens? There are other copies, of course, but it’s not like the Crown or the police would just release theirs without a fight. Sure, we pay all their salaries, and for the cellblock and the camera. And Ms. Carr wants the tape released. And there’s no conceivable reason for either party not to release the tape except that it would embarrass or implicate themselves.
But who knows how trustworthy those copies might be? In court, police lawyers argued the missing DVD raised questions as to the video’s “integrity.” Well, sure. A nefarious defence attorney might have somehow gained access to the copies and CGI-ed in a police officer dropping a grand piano on Ms. Carr’s head, for example, or chasing her around the cellblock with a flamethrower. You can do amazing things with a laptop these days.

To be fair, this isn’t necessarily a sad-sack coverup. The video might have been innocently mislaid. Maybe they’ll find it behind a radiator somewhere, its “integrity” hopefully intact. But if you read about, say, the Russian or Indonesian justice system misplacing a video that could implicate a favoured member of society in the mistreatment of a less favoured member, and then the prosecution and the police refused to provide their copies, would you assume everything was on the level? I’d think not.

In the aftermath of the G20, we all know the extraordinary lengths to which police forces and officers will go to spare their fellows even the lenient punishments they usually face for doing wrong. And the recent scandal over police helping Crown prosecutors vet jury members confirms the two are very interested in preserving each other’s reputations. Knowing what we know about the Ottawa police and its recent record, this thing smells to high heaven.

But assume whatever chain of events you want. What’s missing from this story is a sense of panic, of utter mortification. Everyone involved in the chain of custody, and everyone involved in the case (other than the defence and Ms. Carr) should be frantic with worry. None should sleep until an answer is discovered. The judge should be apoplectic. Jobs should be on the line. Canada’s justice system isn’t the same as Russia’s or Indonesia’s. That’s why it’s so awful when it looks the same.

The nonchalance is baffling. As much as people still call police, and rightfully trust them, in a crisis, there is a growing sense among law-and-order types that police really aren’t on their side — that they’re just another self-interested public-sector union, albeit more heavily armed. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who’s as cartoonish a cop-lover as you’ll find, has discovered that cutting police complements, salaries and perquisites might be a pretty easy sell.

If we aren’t in a full-blown crisis of confidence in Canadian policing and justice, we’re heading towards one, and nobody seems intent on stopping it. Police forces should count on politicians not even trying to stop it until it’s far too late, then concluding it’s not worth it and throwing the cops under the bus. Releasing the cellblock video might help the Ottawa police claw back a bit of respect.

National Post

Thursday, July 21, 2011

North Carolina man dies

July 20, 2011: Lareko Williams, 21, Charlotte, North Carolina

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

B.C. seeks civilian for police oversight office

July 19, 2011
Canadian Press/CBC

The B.C. government is looking for a civilian to head its much-anticipated Independent Investigations Office that will look into all allegations against police in the province.

The director will oversee the new office, which will conduct investigations into serious injuries or deaths involving municipal police officers or members of the RCMP.

The chief civilian director position is a five-year order-in-council appointment, with the possibility of a second five-year appointment.

The independent office was one of the key recommendations from retired judge Thomas Braidwood's report into the October 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski, who died after being stunned by an RCMP Taser at Vancouver's airport.

The Independent Investigations Office will take over such investigations from police forces, who currently are called in when deaths or injuries involve members of other forces.

Under the legislation, the director must be a civilian who has never worked as a police officer.

Attorney General Barry Penner said the office should be up and running by the end of the year.

Applications will be accepted until August 16.

Colorado man dies

July 18, 2011: Alonzo Ashley, 29, Denver, Colorado

Federal Jury Awards $10 Million Against TASER International for Teenager's Death

CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Attorneys John Burton and Peter M. Williamson announce that at 2:30 p.m. EDT today, a federal court jury returned a verdict for wrongful death in the amount of $10,000,000.00 against TASER International Inc., for the wrongful death of 17-year-old Darryl Turner, who collapsed and died in a Charlotte, North Carolina supermarket on March 20, 2008, following shocks to the chest from a TASER Model X26 electronic control device.

The jury found that TASER negligently failed to warn that discharging its X26 model ECD into the chest of a subject near the heart poses a substantial risk of cardiac arrest to persons against whom the device is deployed. The plaintiffs are the parents, Devoid Turner and Tammy Lou Fontenot.

The Mecklenburg County medical examiner, Thomas D. Owens, M.D., found no drugs in Turner's system, and reported his heart to be disease free. Accordingly, Dr. Owens attributed death to "agitated state, stress and use of conducted energy device (TASER)."

After the verdict was announced, John Burton, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, explained the importance of the verdict: "TASER has been irresponsible in representing the safety of its products. Hopefully, this verdict will sound the alarm to police officers around the world that firing these weapons into the chests of people should be avoided. No other family should have to endure the tragedy that the Fontenot family has experienced."

The lawsuit is Fontenot v. TASER International, Inc., United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division, Case No. 3:10-CV-125. The jury consisted of five women and three men. United States District Judge Robert Conrad presided.

Plaintiffs' Counsel:

John Burton, Esq.
65 North Raymond Ave, Ste 300
Pasadena, CA 91103
Tel: 626-449-8300/Email: jb@johnburtonlaw.com
Web: http://www.johnburtonlaw.com

Peter M. Williamson, Esq.
21800 Oxnard Street, Suite 305
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Tel: 818-226-5700/Email: pmw@wandklaw.com
Web: http://www.wandklaw.com

Charles A. Everage, Esq.
1800 Camden Road, Ste. 104
Charlotte, NC 28216
Tel: 704-377-9157/ Email: cae@everagelaw.com

John F. Baker, Esq.
1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 600
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Tel: 310-553-6630
Email: ptc@mcmc-law.com
Email: jfb@mcmc-law.com

SOURCE John Burton and Peter M. Williamson


Jury Award for Plaintiff in Turner v. TASER International - Company Intends to Appeal Based on Exclusion of Key Evidence and Other Errors

July 19, 2011, 4:05 p.m. EDT

SCOTTSDALE, AZ, Jul 19, 2011 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) -- TASER International, Inc. /quotes/zigman/85741/quotes/nls/tasr TASR +2.40% , a global provider of safety technologies that prevent conflict, protect life, and resolve disputes, today announced that a jury in Charlotte, North Carolina delivered a verdict against TASER International.

The case involved the death of Mr. Darryl Turner. Mr. Turner was a 17-year-old male involved in an altercation with law enforcement at a grocery store on March 20, 2008.

Key facts:

-- A Harvard cardiovascular pathologist, Dr. James Stone, diagnosed Mr.
Turner as having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the leading cause
of sudden cardiac arrest in young adults. Dr. Stone testified as an
expert for the defense and showed autopsy samples supporting his
expert opinion.
-- While most people assume that cardiac arrest only occurs in older
persons, a May 2011 study in the American Journal of Cardiology found
that 25% of all deaths of persons under age 21 are due to cardiac
arrest -- and 39% of those cardiac arrests are due to cardiac problems
(such as the HCM condition present in Mr. Turner).
-- The Court excluded the jury from hearing evidence that Mr. Turner had
three baggies of marijuana in his sock during the incident. TASER
International believes this is critical evidence, as well as the fact
that a screen for marijuana and other key drugs was not performed at
autopsy, or before the lab destroyed Mr. Turner's blood evidence.
Marijuana is known to exacerbate the risk of cardiac arrhythmias in
people with HCM. There was evidence that Mr. Turner's behavior had
drastically changed from earlier in the day when he left the store,
after being confronted with, and admitting to, theft allegations,
prior to his lunch break compared to when he subsequently returned and
a confrontation with store employees and police ensued. These changes
are suggestive of possible drug usage -- and the presence of three
baggies of marijuana in Mr. Turner's sock is particularly key evidence
in light of the failure of the investigation to have tested for
marijuana in his blood or hair samples before they destroyed them.
-- A May 2011 study just released by the United States Department of
Justice found, "current research does not support a substantially
increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia in field situations, even if the
CED (TASER ECD) darts strike the front of the chest." These findings
are consistent with the May 2011 Pasquier, et al. review paper on ECD
related morbidity and mortality, which is consistent with prior
literature, including the 2009 White Paper by the American Medical
-- The court also excluded jury instructions related to contributory
negligence. Under North Carolina law, if a plaintiff has acted in a
negligent manner that contributed to their damages, even a 1%
contribution, they are barred from recovering damages from a third
party. The Company's legal counsel believe that Mr. Turner's crimes,
including theft, trespassing, drug possession, assault on fellow
employees, resisting arrest and initiation of an apparent assault on a
law enforcement officer constitute negligent behavior that
necessitated the use of force by police. The Company believes this is
an appealable error and will pursue appropriate remedies in the
appellate courts.
-- The verdict amount will be offset by approximately $730,000 in a
settlement (including interest) from the City of Charlotte, as well as
deducting $40,000 in a settlement from worker's compensation so the
net award will be $9,230,000. Approximately $6 million of this award
will be covered by TASER International's insurance if the verdict
stands up through the appeals process.
-- Judgment has not yet been entered. TASER International has moved for
judgment in its favor not withstanding the verdict.

"This was a sad and tragic incident, and our hearts go out to Mr. Turner's family," said Doug Klint, President and General Counsel of TASER International. "We can certainly understand how the jury felt deep compassion for Mr. Turner's family, and how this compassion may have overwhelmed the scientific evidence presented in this case. However, given the important nature of this case and the exclusion of key evidence that occurred, TASER International intends to appeal this verdict."

TASER International has only received one other adverse jury verdict in the 2008 case of Betty Lou Heston v. TASER International, Inc. In that matter, on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, TASER International prevailed on the majority of legal matters and the final amount awarded to plaintiffs was reduced from more than $7 million to approximately $200,000. While the company believes it has a strong case for appeal in the Turner matter, there are no assurances that the company will again be successful on appeal.

In other legal matters:

-- On July 18, 2011, The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth
Circuit upheld the summary judgment granted in TASER International's
favor in the matter of Bud Lee, et al v. Metro Govt. of Nashville, et
al. in which the trial court in granting TASER International's motion
for summary judgment found that the electronic control devices were
not defective (in design, manufacturing, or warning) or unreasonably
-- TASER has won judgment or been dismissed in 127 product liability

About TASER International, Inc.

TASER International, Inc. /quotes/zigman/85741/quotes/nls/tasr TASR +2.40% is a global provider of safety technologies that prevent conflict and protect life. More than 16,200 public safety agencies in 107 countries rely on TASER(R) electronic control devices (ECDs) and AXON on-officer camera systems to help protect and serve. TASER innovations benefit individuals and families too, providing personal protection and accountability while maintaining regard for life. Since 1994, more than 236,000 individuals have relied on TASER technology as a means for effective personal safety. Learn more about TASER International and its solutions at www.TASER.com and www.Evidence.com or by calling (800) 978-2737. Be a part of the TASER community by joining us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Note to Investors

To review the TASER International Safe Harbor Statement, please visit our Investor Relations Safe Harbor Statement at http://investor.taser.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=129937&p=irol-safeharbor .

For investor relations information please contact Katie Pyra by phone at 480-515-6330 or via email at IR@TASER.com, or Dan Behrendt, Chief Financial Officer of TASER International, Inc., 480-905-2002.

Steve Tuttle
Vice President of Communications
TASER International, Inc.
(480) 444-4000

Federal Jury Awards $10 Million Against TASER International for Teenager's Death

Federal Jury Awards $10 Million Against TASER International for Teenager's Death

CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Attorneys John Burton and Peter M. Williamson announce that at 2:30 p.m. EDT today, a federal court jury returned a verdict for wrongful death in the amount of $10,000,000.00 against TASER International Inc., for the wrongful death of 17-year-old Darryl Turner, who collapsed and died in a Charlotte, North Carolina supermarket on March 20, 2008, following shocks to the chest from a TASER Model X26 electronic control device.

The jury found that TASER negligently failed to warn that discharging its X26 model ECD into the chest of a subject near the heart poses a substantial risk of cardiac arrest to persons against whom the device is deployed. The plaintiffs are the parents, Devoid Turner and Tammy Lou Fontenot.

The Mecklenburg County medical examiner, Thomas D. Owens, M.D., found no drugs in Turner's system, and reported his heart to be disease free. Accordingly, Dr. Owens attributed death to "agitated state, stress and use of conducted energy device (TASER)."

After the verdict was announced, John Burton, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, explained the importance of the verdict: "TASER has been irresponsible in representing the safety of its products. Hopefully, this verdict will sound the alarm to police officers around the world that firing these weapons into the chests of people should be avoided. No other family should have to endure the tragedy that the Fontenot family has experienced."

The lawsuit is Fontenot v. TASER International, Inc., United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division, Case No. 3:10-CV-125. The jury consisted of five women and three men. United States District Judge Robert Conrad presided.

Plaintiffs' Counsel:

John Burton, Esq.
65 North Raymond Ave, Ste 300
Pasadena, CA 91103
Tel: 626-449-8300/Email: jb@johnburtonlaw.com
Web: http://www.johnburtonlaw.com

Peter M. Williamson, Esq.
21800 Oxnard Street, Suite 305
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Tel: 818-226-5700/Email: pmw@wandklaw.com
Web: http://www.wandklaw.com

Charles A. Everage, Esq.
1800 Camden Road, Ste. 104
Charlotte, NC 28216
Tel: 704-377-9157/ Email: cae@everagelaw.com

John F. Baker, Esq.
1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 600
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Tel: 310-553-6630
Email: ptc@mcmc-law.com
Email: jfb@mcmc-law.com

SOURCE John Burton and Peter M. Williamson


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fatal Lafayette police Taser case goes to federal court

July 18, 2011
John Aguilar, Daily Camera

Ryan Wilson The case of a Lafayette man who died after police used a Taser on him nearly five years ago will go before a jury in federal court next month as part of a lawsuit against the stun-gun maker.

Ryan Wilson, 22, was shot with a Taser gun Aug. 4, 2006, in a field near W. South Boulder Road as he ran from police, who were investigating a report of marijuana plants growing in the area.

The Boulder County Coroner's Office ruled that Wilson died of an irregular heartbeat caused by a combination of exertion from running from police, the Taser shock and a heart condition present since birth.

A year after his death, Wilson's family sued both the Lafayette Police Department and Arizona-based Taser International.

The case against police, which included an accusation that the officer didn't warn Wilson he was going to use his Taser gun as required by department protocols, was dismissed by a judge last year. Wilson's estate has appealed that ruling.

The case against Taser -- a product liability suit -- remains in effect. Wilson's parents claim that the company knew its Taser X26 had caused several deaths of people who were in an "exhausted and/or excited state," similar to the condition of their son that day.

Jury selection in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks, is scheduled to begin Aug. 8.

Jack Wilson, Ryan Wilson's father, said he has been waiting for resolution to his son's death for too long.

"It's disturbing to know that the justice system moves so slowly," he said. "I expected it to take years, but not this long."

He declined to go into detail about his suit against Taser but said he hopes a wider message emerges about the potential hazards of restraining suspects through electric shock.

"I hope the outcome of the case would help in showing that Taser's practice is not everything they say it is," he said.

Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle defended the company's products and record.

"While Taser does not comment on pending litigation involving our equipment, we continue to stand by the independent, peer-reviewed medical studies that have shown that the Taser electric control devices are generally safe and effective," Tuttle said.

More than 16,200 law enforcement agencies use the company's products, he said, and there have been more than 2.5 million successful "field uses" of the stun guns, either involving suspects or law enforcement personnel during training exercises.

Tuttle also said Taser has lost only one product liability case in front of a jury since its founding in 1993.

But Judd Golden, head of the Boulder chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that statistic doesn't take into account all the cases Taser has settled out of court.

Golden said he's aware of instances in Colorado when the company settled before the cases made it to trial.

He said there has been "some progress" in police use of Tasers over the last few years, especially after the company issued a bulletin in 2009 warning that shocking someone in the upper chest could result in a remote chance of cardiac problems.

Golden said more law enforcement agencies need to consider the potential danger of using electric stun guns in their line of work.

"These devices should only be used as an alternative to deadly force and should not be used as a device to control people," he said.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Excessive force a rarity for police: study

July 16, 2011
Tom Blackwell, National Post

Christine Hall witnessed a lot of drama during five years of emergency-medicine training, but one incident near the end of her residency left the young physician stunned. A patient had arrived at her Calgary emergency department violently agitated and incoherent, was restrained by security guards and injected with a sedative. And, within 2 ½ minutes, was dead.

The precise cause of the patient’s demise remains a mystery 10 years later, yet it stuck with Dr. Hall, inspiring her to launch an unprecedented and provocative study of what happens when police meet face to face with the public, apply force and, sometimes, cause serious or even fatal injuries. Her initial findings and analysis, part of which were published this month, offer a surprising — and controversial — counterpoint to the repeated allegations recently of excessive police violence.

From the Taser-related death of Robert Dzienskanski at Vancouver airport to the apparent sexual assault on a woman held by Ottawa police, the handling of suspects by Canadian law-enforcement has drawn frequent censure of late.

Dr. Hall says her study, in which officers at major forces in two provinces have been documenting hundreds of thousands of encounters with the public over the last four years, paints a different picture, however. She has identified fewer than 1,200 incidents of use of force among almost 1.8 million significant police-public interactions, and says most of the targets of the strong-arming were drunk, mentally distressed or violent, at least according to standardized reports filled in by the officers involved. One death was recorded.

What is more, Dr. Hall suspects people like her former emergency patient and others in police custody end up dead largely because of their own, out-of-control condition — not necessarily law-enforcement weapons like the Taser.

“There is a huge public misconception that every time a police officer is in a room with someone, someone is getting wounded. And in fact, when you do the data, it’s remarkably small,” said the physician, now based in Victoria.

“I think that harm is done when the public is exposed to a notion that use of force is rampant and it always turns out negatively … If the average member of the population knew that use of force represents far less than a 10th of a per cent of what police do, would we really want to spend a lot of tax money on sending every police officer to crisis intervention school?”

The physician hopes at the same time that her findings will eventually identify what type of person is most at risk of ending up dead or severely injured at the hands of police, and help officers deal with those people in a safer fashion.

Dr. Hall’s perspective on the emotional issue is not exactly embraced by everyone, though. She debated U.S. colleagues this month who believe emergency physicians like her should report suspected cases of police brutality, just as they now blow the whistle on possible domestic abuse. And she has taken flak for her focus on the victims of police use of force, rather than police actions and weapons.

The independent inquiry report on the death of Mr. Dzienskanski at Vancouver airport in 2007 concluded police officers had acted inappropriately in their handling of the Polish man, and lacked proper training in Taser use.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association released a report last October that suggested there had been more than 400 deaths in police custody over a 15-year period in the six provinces and territories for which it could obtain statistics.

Dr. Hall’s research, funded by the federal government’s Canadian Police Research Centre, which is closely tied with the RCMP and Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, seems designed to deflect attention from any police wrongdoing, charged David Eby, executive director of the civil liberties group.

“The problem is that no question is going to be asked of this researcher that will potentially embarrass a police force,” he said. “It’s frustrating for me to see this sort of political research coming out … The real questions that need to be asked are not being asked, and that is frankly putting the public at risk.”

Dr. Hall, however, says her study is designed to avoid any bias and empirically get to the bottom of what happens when officers and the public meet. She has already involved police in two major Western Canadian cities and is about to bring a third online. Two other cities have tentatively agreed to be part of the research.

Whenever officers interact with the public they must fill out a form she developed that records the nature of any use of force, including the behaviour of the subject and police weapons used. Information is cross checked with medical and coroner’s records. The RCMP, though a subject of many of the recent charges of police excesses, has so far not gotten involved in the study.

The first full-blown report on the findings is being submitted for publication to a medical journal now, and details cannot be released until the paper comes out, Dr. Hall said. In a letter to the editor of the Annals of Emergency Medicine this month, however, she did divulge her finding that force was employed in just .07% of interactions. She also noted that police reported that 60% of recipients of that force were violent or very violent, and 86% seemed affected by drug or alcohol abuse, emotional distress or both.

The letter criticized a group of American emergency doctors who advocated in an earlier editorial that ER specialists report to internal-affairs departments or other authorities cases where they suspect police went overboard in their treatment of suspects. The group cited a 2009 survey of emergency specialists where 97% reported having seen patients who may have been victims of excessive force by officers. Dr. Hall called that research “seriously flawed,” arguing that few emergency doctors are qualified to gauge whether force was excessive, and cited her findings as evidence the issue is overblown.

Dr. Jared Strout, a Seattle emergency physician and one of the editorial’s authors, said in an interview, however, that emergency doctors have a duty to their patients to report suspicions, even if they cannot determine on their own if force was actually excessive.

He also acknowledged that the use of force is rare and excessive force very rare — despite the intense media coverage given some cases of police brutality. It is crucial, though, to keep an eye on those outlier cases and find out why they occur, Dr. Strout said.

“Police have a unique relationship with society, in that they are the only group that can legally use lethal force or any kind of force,” he said. “That kind of very protected status needs to be monitored extremely closely, because of the potential for abuse.”

Perhaps Dr. Hall’s most controversial assertion, though, is that the core cause of in-custody deaths may not be Tasers or other police tools, but a pattern of behaviour on the part of the victim that seems to be repeated over and over again in such cases. Like that patient in her emergency department, they tend to be violently agitated, sweaty, exhibit seeming superhuman strength and are oblivious to the police presence, she said.

Others, though, are skeptical about focusing on the individual, suggesting it is the police who must be doing something wrong. Dr. Strout said staff at his Seattle emergency department encounter and manage to subdue out-of-control patients “all the time,” with death and other complications being “exquisitely rare.”

“We don’t have weapons to use, we have medicines instead and we have different techniques and ways of dealing with these things,” he said.

“The interaction of the police and these subjects is why they’re dying and there very well may be ways the police can decrease that risk of death from their interactions.”

On that last point, at least, Dr. Hall is in agreement, suggesting that the result of her research may be some kind of protocol where police first subdue such suspects, call in paramedics to administer a sedative, then have them taken to hospital, not the police station.

“Of course,” she said, “if one believes it is all a worldwide giant police cover-up, then there is no need to investigate anything and people will continue to die while we spend our resources investigating the last police officer who came into physical contact with him or her.”

NEW ZEALAND: The shocking truth about Tasers

July 17, 2011
Ian Steward, Sunday Star Times

A 14-year-old boy and a 70-year-old man are among the New Zealanders stunned by police Tasers since their introduction last year.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Star-Times show police have "presented" Tasers to offenders 797 times since March 2010 and, of these, they were fired 102 times. However, the police's Tactical Options Research database shows the weapons were ineffective on 36 of those 102 occasions, meaning the weapons worked only two-thirds of the time.

Green MP Keith Locke was concerned police needed to stun a pensioner and a teenager rather than subdue them in other ways. A 70-year-old could easily have a heart condition or circulatory problems – which had been linked to serious injury and death from Tasers overseas – and the boy's development could be harmed by being put in "a state of terror".

Locke said it had been observed in New Zealand's Taser trial and in overseas police forces that it was "just so tempting" for officers to pull out the Taser to induce compliance when other tactics were available.

"Do we want a form of policing that uses the terror of possible use?"

Police national firearm and taser project manager Superintendent John Rivers said Tasers were resulting in far fewer injuries to police.

"Not that many years ago I would have thought hand-to-hand engagement is a benign option – the hell it is. Far more people and police get hurt when it comes to fighting and scragging."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor also defended Tasers over hand-to-hand conflict.

"The worst injuries I got were from trying to subdue somebody who didn't want to be subdued."

Rivers defended the Tasers, saying they were a "less-lethal" option but they could have "unforseen consequences".

"We can't promise that some time in the future [a death or injury won't occur]. That's just the nature of policing."

Police said the 36 failures were due to "operator error" with the two probes either missing the offender or failing to lodge in their skin.

More worryingly, the stun guns have been fired more times by accident than in the line of duty, with concerns over officers' ineptitude with the weapons borne out by the statistic that Tasers have been "unintentionally discharged" 108 times.

All but one of these accidental firings has occurred during "pre-operation sign out checks" at police stations, predominantly where officers failed to notice a loaded Taser cartridge prior to carrying out checks.

The other accidental firing took place inside a police car, but police were unable to provide details.

Rivers said the failure rate was in line with international statistics.

"It's not infallible. There's no surprises in the way things are tracking."

The definition of a Taser being ineffective had recently been widened to include another option having to be used.

Several of those cases occurred because the incapacitation was "short term" and police had not moved in to restrain the person in time and they had "recommenced" their behaviour.

Rivers said the accidental discharges had not resulted in any injuries but he said it was "frustrating".

Ad Feedback Locke, an outspoken critic of Tasers, said the large number of times Tasers were presented showed a "mission creep" towards policing through fear.

"I would question whether the 797 times [would all] fit the guide line of serious danger to the officer."

He would not criticise the amount of training officers got with Tasers but he said: "You can never get enough training."

Feedback from officers on the ground was that "it has made them and the people they police safer".

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oklahoma man dies

July 10, 2011: Matthew Kelley, 27, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Monday, July 11, 2011

Multiple use of stun gun 'inappropriate'

July 11, 2011
Miranda Forster, Sydney Morning Herald

A Queensland police officer was wrong to keep using a Taser on a man after initial blasts from the weapon failed to subdue him, a former police tactician has told a coronial inquest.

William Turner gave evidence in the Brisbane Coroners Court on Monday at the inquest into the death of Antonio Galeano, who was tasered multiple times by police.

The 39-year-old died on the floor of his girlfriend's home in Brandon, north Queensland, in June 2009.

Senior Constable Craig Myles has admitted tasering Mr Galeano eight times in an attempt to subdue him, although the Taser he used registered 28 applications of 50,000 volts.

The court was told at one stage the Taser was deployed continuously for 40 seconds.

Mr Turner, who was in charge of police tactical training in Queensland in 2009, said it was incorrect to use the weapon multiple times to no effect. "If it's not deploying properly he should have moved to another use of force option," Mr Turner said. "If it was a conscious decision to cycle (the Taser) it was inappropriate.

"To keep recycling the Taser and for him not to achieve control of Mr Galeano, I would have said that he'd really need to change his tactics because it wasn't operating for him in the correct manner."

He suggested in the heat of the moment Snr Const Myles may not have heard the Taser deploying or seen the effect on Mr Galeano.

Mr Turner said the initial decision to use the Taser was appropriate, given Mr Galeano was a known violent offender and appeared mentally unstable and under the influence of drugs.

"I think taking those things into account the decision for Myles to deploy the Taser was tactically sound," he said.

Mr Turner also defended the decision by Snr Const Myles and his partner not to call for backup before they arrived at the scene.

As they were the only officers on duty it would have taken up to 40 minutes for help to arrive, he told the court.

He admitted the officers could have called for medical help before they arrived at the scene as they knew Mr Galeano had been injured.

"A call for an ambulance at that time would have been a good thing," he said.

The inquest continues.

Texas man dies

June 29, 2011: Steven Hayes, 54, Nassau Bay, Texas

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Missouri man dies

July 9, 2001: Joshua Amir Nossoughi, 32, Springfield, Missouri

Friday, July 08, 2011

Police get more Tasers and right to wear them

July 8, 2011

A month after Mario Hamel and Patrick Limoges were killed by police fire, Montreal cops have received the goahead to acquire more Tasers and carry them on their belts instead of locking them in their cruisers.

In the next few days, four new stun guns will be deployed and 12 will be in circulation by the start of 2012.

More patrollers will now receive the three-day training required to use these weapons.

Officers will be authorized to wear Tasers on their waist or thigh, instead of stashing them in a locked box in their car.

"This recommendation from the commission was made to insure better accessibility and greater availability of the weapon to police," said Claude Trudel, president of the city's permanent commission on public security.

The commission must aprove all of Taser purchases.

Police chief Marc Parent's request for more Tasers got the green light Wednesday.

Réal Ménard, the commission's vice-president, supported the police's request even though his Vision Montreal party called for a moratorium on Tasers a year ago.

"Recent events like what unfortunately happened downtown allow us to think that the Taser, as an intermediary weapon, allows police to quickly control an individual without the use of violence," Ménard said.

Marco Carrier, of Montreal police's executive committee on the use of force, says the request was unrelated to the June 7 deaths of Hamel and Limoges.

The commission has authorized Montreal police to add 15 new stun guns to its arsenal, bringing its total to 57.

Carrier cautions that most of these are used for training and SWAT, and only 12 will be available to patrollers.

Montreal is among the least armed city in North America when it comes to stun guns.

The Montreal Police Brotherhood had mixed feelings about the news, noting that the weapon fell from grace following the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski, a distressed Polish immigrant jolted by Mounties at Vancouver airport.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

California man dies

July 5, 2011: Alvaredo Flores-Bravo, 46, Marysville, California

Sunday, July 03, 2011

EDITORIAL: Zap happy?

July 2, 2011

The Taser stun gun has proven to be an effective police alternative to the use of deadly force. Studies document its ability to reduce injuries to both officers and suspects in dozens of cities and counties where it has been deployed. But its safe use requires extensive training and adherence to guidelines to protect both user and target.

As the Chronicle's James Pinkerton reported last week, the use of stun guns by the Harris County Sheriff's Department has frequently diverged from national safety guidelines formulated by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice. Among 621 incidents where Tasers were used by deputies to subdue people from 2009 through early June, Pinkerton documented numerous cases where the application of the 50,000-volt shocks countered the best practices recommendations.

According to the 2011 guidelines, officers should use a Taser for only one cycle, or five seconds, before evaluating whether more shots are needed. According to the DOJ-PERF document, use of one weapon for more than 15 seconds or multiple Taser stuns "may increase the risk of death or serious injury. Any subsequent applications should be independently justifiable, and the risk should be weighed."

In Harris County, deputies stunned 43 suspects three or more times. In 10 incidents, two or more officers used Tasers on a person at the same time. A DWI suspect was Tasered 24 times. In 2006 deputies stunned a mentally ill African-American man, 31-year-old Herman Barnes, 32 times. He subsequently died, and his survivors are suing the county. The Taser manufacturer was dropped from the suit because its training manual for officers included a warning against multiple stuns.

A 17-year-old auto-theft suspect was shocked six times, including a final jolt applied to his groin. That gets us to federal guideline 28: Personnel should not intentionally target sensitive areas (e.g., head, neck, genitalia).

Although the Taser manufacturer warns agencies to avoid applying shocks to the chest because of widespread, and unproven, claims that they can trigger heart attacks, deputies zapped at least 30 people in that area.

Whereas the guidelines advise the use of Tasers only when suspects are actively aggressive or resisting arrest, deputies stunned 79 suspects who were passive or verbally aggressive, including some who were fleeing. According to the guidelines, fleeing should not be the sole justification for stunning suspects, because of the risk of serious injury.

In spite of all these incidents where the use of Tasers seems questionable, only one county deputy has been disciplined, and in that 2005 case it was because the officer hadn't informed superiors that he had stunned a suspect.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia responded to Pinkerton's story by claiming that the department "gives grave consideration and attention" to the federal guidelines. He cited the acknowledgment in the federal report that guidelines are flexible and subject to modification in particular circumstances. There's a huge difference between Sheriff's Department deputies being flexible in specific circumstances and blatantly ignoring safety rules for Taser use outlined by both the federal government and equipment vendors.

Multiple stuns applied in numerous cases, including shocking a teenager's genital area, don't strike us as flexible law enforcement. Words like "inhumane" and "irresponsible" come to mind. The fact that no officer has even been reprimanded in these incidents is an indication that much tighter supervision of county Taser use is needed.