Monday, January 4, 2010

"Don't tase me, bro," an official policy?

Who can forget the cries of the University of Florida student who demanded that he be allowed to ask a question of, out of all people, Senator John Kerry. While many may recall the YouTube clip of Andrew Meyer, fewer likely remember that Meyer was charged with resisting an officer and disturbing the peace, but the charges were later dropped. A twenty-one year-old, at the time of the incident, Meyer was indeed, tased by a University of Florida police officer as he was being forcibly removed from the room. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the incident and cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing. The underlying sense that the event was a prank or staged detracted from its otherwise darker nature.

In this case, the state's apparatus ruled it was okay to tase.

When to tase and when not to has been a thorny issue since the appearance of the taser as a police weapon. A standard police taser delivers up to 50,000 volts of electricity to the body, usually causing overwhelming response in the nervous system resulting in muscle contraction and temporary incapacitation. Occasionally, a tase results in sudden cardiac arrest and death. Whoops.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to weigh in on the thorny issue. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the, "ruling came in a California case involving a Coronado police officer who used his Taser on a motorist who got out of his car, agitated but not threatening the officer after being pulled over." The problem is that the 9th Circuit has no better idea where to draw the line then the cops do. Their ruling says that, "stun guns should only be used under limited conditions, since they represent a more serious use of force than other nonlethal police weapons." Brilliant. No kidding.

Watch the Meyer video again and note the State said a tase was considered okay in this situation, despite the position of obvious physical dominance the police were already in. Note too, that the 9th Circuit Case started with a cop who thought it was okay to tase a motorist who was agitated about being pulled over by the law.

The Court has a series of tests the cops are supposed to consider pre-tasering, "Is there danger to the officer or others? Was the suspect accused of a felony or misdemeanor? Was the subject actively resisting, or was the resistance passive? Was there some less serious alternative way to quell the disturbance?" These kind of things are always shades of gray. Frequently, the police have to make the decision at high speed in potentially life threatening situations.

According to the Mercury-News, in the City of San Jose where police officers have killed six people with tasers since 2004, the "City Attorney Rick Doyle said he saw no contradiction between the ruling and city police policy, which he said is based on an officer using a 'reasonable' level of force."

Sounds like "Don't tase me, bro," isn't exactly an official policy yet.

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