Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The New Russian Roulette

Hit or miss. Lucky or not so lucky, you just never know.
And it appears to bes growing. Almost every single day. Getting bigger and bigger. More and more of an issue.

Playing Russian Roulette with somebody else's life?

But don't worry. A solution has been found.
Its called the ever-prevalent, also-growing ... enquiry.

  • How many people have died from the police use of tasers?
  • Should they really be considered 'non-lethal'?
  • How many jurisdicitons have now ordered enquiries into their use?
  • Are many people just overreacting, not understanding the realities and complexities of police work?

Quite frankly, I don't know the answers. But here's what I do know.

From Not A Lawyer:

In Ohio, a pregnant woman who was on the ground was shot with a Taser gun by a police officer because she refused to answer his questions and resisted being handcuffed.

The woman had arrived at the police station with her 1-year-old son in tow and asked the police to take custody of the child because she was tired of dealing with his father. When questioned, she refused to answer and just tried to leave with her child. The officer decided to detain her because he says that he feared that letting her leave with the child could have put the boy in danger.

So, as the officer grabbed her, she resisted him and ended up on the floor and resisted being handcuffed. She was wearing a winter coat, so the cop didn’t realize she was pregnant and pulled out his trusty Taser and shot her with it.
This officer remains on duty as the FBI investigates the case to determine if excessive police force was used. The police department says that they are also investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, the condition of the woman and her unborn child are unknown.

Apparently, according to a copy of Trotwood Police Department General Orders, police officers are encouraged to "greatly evaluate each situation with discretion" before using a Taser on a child, elderly person or pregnant woman.

But unfortunately this isn't the only pregnant woman who has been tasered.

Tianesha Robinson, 33, was pregnant in 2006 when she was jolted by a stun gun in Kansas after she allegedly resisted arrest during a traffic stop. Robinson ultimately had a miscarriage, according to The Associated Press, but doctors could not conclusively link the Taser to the woman losing the baby.

Another woman, Cindy Grippi, delivered a stillborn girl in December 2001 after California police hit her with a Taser. A medical examiner never determined the cause of the child's death, which could have been traced to the woman's methamphetamine usage. Still, the city of Chula Vista settled a lawsuit with the woman for $675,000, according to the AP.
But wait, there's more.

Authorities in Utah are probing a recent Taser incident in which motorist Jared Massey was struck by the device after allegedly disobeying an officer's requests. Massey, who filed a complaint with Utah authorities about the trooper's use of force, posted the dashboard camera video of the confrontation on YouTube last week. The incident sparked a new round debate.

We've had our share of incidents in Canada too.

Canadian officials continue to investigate the case of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after he was hit by a Taser at the Vancouver International Airport in October. The four police officers involved in that incident, which also was caught on surveillance tape, have since been reassigned to different posts. Eighteen people have died in Canada after being hit with a Taser in the last four years, according to the Canadian federal police.
More on that last one here. Which resulted in the federal government ordering a review of the RCMP taser policy. You can even watch the video. If you're so moved.

That review, however, will not include other police forces.

In Montreal, Quilem Registre died in mid-October after being shocked by a Taser at a police station where he had been brought for questioning. He had been stopped as a result of a traffic violation, and officers said he appeared to be intoxicated.

And more local to me.

A man has died in a Dartmouth jail about 30 hours after he was jolted by a Taser, prompting Nova Scotia's justice minister to order a review of police use of the weapon.

But Halifax Regional Police said Thursday that it's too early to speculate about whether the Taser hit killed the man.
There's a bit of a catch with this one, you see. The 45-year-old man died about 30 hours after officers used a stun gun to subdue him. That was 30 hours after he received medical attention and was cleared medically follwoing the use of the taser.

So where is this all going?

Well, it would appear that there are more lawsuits outstanding. Some have already been dismissed by the courts. And obviously with good reason.

U.S. District Judge Andre Davis dismissed Sparks resident Brian Nero’s lawsuit against officers Seung Pak and Jai Song, who responded to Nero’s home shortly after midnight July 6, 2003, for a 911 call of a disturbance.

“In light of the information that was available to the officers when they arrived on the scene, their action in entering the Nero home was objectively reasonable ... ” Davis wrote in a Sept. 27 decision. “ ... The decision to ‘detain’ [Nero] was also plainly objectively reasonable.”

Pak and Song were greeted at the door by Nero’s wife, Maria, and entered the home, where they found Brian Nero naked in the bathroom ­— inside an “attic-like storage area” — with a handgun, according to the judge’s decision. The officers requested the help of a tactical unit and used their weapons, including a Taser gun, to detain Nero until other units arrived.
This is the first lawsuit that I am aware of in Nova Scotia.

When an agitated Mr. Saulnier decided to leave the police station through a back door, two Mounties followed him outside and ordered him back inside, the statement of claim alleges. One officer went back inside to grab a Taser, then returned and fired the darts into Mr. Saulnier’s back.

"According to the RCMP, (Mr. Saulnier) was in an altercation with one officer and the other one got him from behind," Mr. MacGillivray said. Mr. Saulnier fell to the ground and both officers jumped on him, the statement of claim says. A third officer came outside to help. Two officers repeatedly Tasered Mr. Saulnier in "drive-stun mode" by applying the weapon directly to his lower back and other parts of his body, the suit alleges.

A Taser used in this fashion inflicts pain but does not immobilize, Mr. MacGillivray said last month.

And people in a state of so-called "excited delirium" cannot be immobilized by pain, he said.
And as always, there are what appears to be valid arguments on both sides of the issue.

But here's another piece of the problem, you see. It appears that a fair number of the individuals who have turned into 'unfortunate statistics' after being tasered suffer from some form of mental illness. And there's no denying that the legal system in general, including the police, tend not to do such a good job with these people. Its a system that quite frankly is not equipped to handle these situations.

More interesting facts.

The human rights organization Amnesty International, which urges more restraint by law enforcement when choosing to discharge the devices, cited 250 cases in the United States in the last six years in which a suspect died after being hit with a Taser. Those statistics, however, do not track whether the shock actually caused the deaths.

Taser International Inc., the company that manufactures Tasers, claims that the device can only be tied to 12 deaths but does recognize that pregnant women are at more risk of danger if hit by one of the devices.

Possible solutions?

Some, of course, argue for the complete banning of tasers, protesting that drawing a weapon of deadly force to protect one's self or citizens might be preferable, as at least then both the police and the subject threatened would have the prospect of making an informed judgment about the consequences of their conduct.

Apparently, the UN has gone so far as to call their use "torture". Apparently the UN has been known to be a little wacky on occasion. I mean if even stunning someone with a taser is torture, wouldn't the majority of the member nations of the security council be considered torturers? And if stunning someone with a taser is torture, what do you call it when the police actually have to shoot someone with a real gun? Sometimes dead. Sometimes 'only' wounded. But maybe better dead then alive, no? I mean when you're wounded you feel pain, right?

Perhaps we need to shift the lens here. Is the question really whether we should outlaw it as being torture? Because if it is, we best tell the cops they can't carry guns or batons any more either. Batons can hurt too, you know.

Or is the real question closer to when and how their use might be justified? Much like we have guidelines for police use of firearms.

Its almost cliche to state that law enforcement is not an easy job. I won't go on to say that I don't envy the police their job, that I wouldn't want to to it, because at one time, many years ago, I actually considered just such a vocation. But I will say that I respect what they do (even if that's hard to remember sometimes during a motor vehicle stop) and realize that its very easy to second guess their judgment from the comfort of our own computer chairs and lazy boys. We weren't there. We don't know. And only truly informed hindsight is 100%.

What would I suggest?

Better education and training for the police, both concerning mental health issues and the use of tasers in general. As an interim measure.

For the rest of it, I really think we have to sit back and let those enquiries do their work. Because the larger question is whether or not (even with increased education and training on the part of the police) tasers are something that we want to see included in the police arnsenal. Are they safe enough with proper training and guidelines? Does the safety they bring as another police tool justify their use?

Anything can (and often will) have unintended consequences. We will always have some individuals who suffer damages way out of porportion to anything we would expect from a given incident. Usually due to pre-existing suseptibilities. We simply can't wrap everybody up in protective bubble wrap. And, even if we could, would we really want to?

What needs to be happen is a weighing and balancing exercise. After all the evidence is gathered. And all the stakeholders heard from. Only then can we reach a reasonable decision. The issue is important and shouldn't be ignored. It needs to be seriously examined. But at the same time I think we really need to be wary of jumping to quick, relatively 'easy' conclusions. Which, there's nothing new there, is there?


Anonymous said...

The sad aspect to your illogical fallacious diatribe is that you state unsupported biased opinions as "fact", you engage in multiple facets of ignorance (a lack of knowledge, not a lack of intelligence), you include sensationalistic media mis-information and hysteria and draw conclusions therefrom, and all of this will foreseeably result in suspects, EMS, law enforcemet personnel, and others being needlessly injured (or worse).

Now, if you are simply another biased antagonist with an agenda - so be it. However, if you are an honest person simply trying to assist the debate - then, you might at least attempt to verify facts, not take statements out of context, learn a little about logical analysis, falacious arguments, scientific method and perform a the requisite scientific research.

MMC said...

And if you are not the troll you appear to be but have an actual interest in dialogue and useful debate, you might want to resist the urge to simply exhibit your large vocabulary for the world to fawn over and make grand sounding, essentially useless vague statements and criticisms and instead make an attempt to actually contribute something useful to the discussion.

In other words, on the off-chance that you have particular concrete problems with this post and the conclusions drawn from it, you might want to actually state them. One by one. In specific terms. Terms that can be actually be responded to. So we can, like, discuss the issue. I know, that's hard to get a grasp on, isn't it?

Otherwise, I truly hope that your obvious intelligence and incredible charm and wit is well received elsewhere in cyberspace. I'm sure there are places where it will be. And by the way, next time, please wipe your feet on the way in.

Punkys Dilemma said...

Regarding Annoynomous, thanks for saying what I was thinking MMC. Was wondering where he/she was going with his comment.

I agree. I think there needs to be more education, maybe better training in what could be life threatening situations. On the other hand, maybe looking at the 'big picture'...could it be that this is just a handful (although inexcusable) of tasers-gone-bad situations. And overall taser use may be a good thing? Just throwing this thought out.

absolutelytrue said...

MMC, I think this is a great post that makes many valid points. It is a problem that is not simply going to go away. We can not just ignore it and hope that it will.

Thanks for doing this round of of recent stories about the overuse of Taser weapons. Sadly, there are more each day.