Court backs officer’s TASER use

This month I’ll share an interesting court case and also alert you to revised TASER warnings that were published on April 28.

Court Case involving TASER in dart and drive-stun modes

Here is a synopsis of a recent court case I was involved with, involving a male suspect who received a TASER application in dart mode and his girlfriend who received a TASER application in drive-stun mode. The trial was held late last month in federal court in Los Angeles.

Officers Smith and Jones arrived at a residence in response to a report of “a loud party and a fight that was occurring at that residence.” They looked through the open door of the residence and observed 15-20 people inside the living room. They also observed multiple subjects fighting. The officers entered the room and as they approached the fighters, several people present at the party blocked their way.

Officer Jones gave verbal commands, ordering the subjects to stop the fight. The subjects continued to punch each other several times. Officer Jones observed the male suspect to apply a “C-clamp” hold to the neck of one of the combatants. The “C-clamp” hold is a very dangerous, potentially fatal chokehold. The male suspect pushed the victim against the wall while applying the “C-clamp” which makes it even more dangerous because the wall and the “C-clamp” act as a vise against the victim’s neck. The male suspect then appeared to be about to strike the victim with his other hand. Officer Jones perceived the victim to be helpless at that point.

Because of the danger to the victim, Officer Jones deployed his TASER, in dart-mode, against the male suspect. The officer achieved a “good hit” with the TASER, in that the darts lodged in the male suspect’s upper shoulder and lower back. Officer Jones estimated that the male suspect received two seconds of a standard five-second TASER cycle before one of the TASER wires was broken or dislodged by the suspect’s girlfriend who stepped between the officer and the male suspect. Still, the short TASER cycle seemed to get the male suspect’s attention, and he stopped his assault against the victim at the wall. Jones attempted to move toward the male suspect to detain him.

The suspect’s girlfriend pushed against Officer Jones in an effort to keep him away from the male suspect. Officer Jones opined that the girlfriend did not appear to be affected by the TASER wire; she did not fall to the ground. It is a question of fact whether she received any electricity from the broken TASER wire. Officer Jones grabbed the girlfriend’s arm and pulled her away to clear a path so he could move forward and take control of the male suspect.

As Officer Jones was taking the male suspect into custody, the girlfriend started swinging her arms at Officer Jones, striking him in the right arm and attempting to push his arm away from her. The girlfriend grabbed Officer Jones’ right shoulder and back and attempted to pull him away from the male suspect. Then the girlfriend slapped Officer Jones from behind on the neck and shoulder area.

Officer Smith grabbed the girlfriend (who will now be referred to as the “the plaintiff”) by her left arm and pulled her away from Officer Jones. Several people at the party closed in on Officer Jones and pulled the plaintiff toward the front door. Officer Smith followed, instructed the subjects to let go of the plaintiff, and announced that the plaintiff was under arrest. The subjects complied and let go of the plaintiff, who then began swinging her free arm and attempted to break free of Officer Smith’s grasp. Officer Smith attempted to take the plaintiff to the ground, and she fell against a sofa and landed in a seated position. She continued to swing her right hand at Officer Smith, striking him in the right forearm while yelling profanities such as, “Leave me the f**k alone.”

Officer Smith instructed the plaintiff to get on the ground and stop resisting, she continued to yell profanities. Officer Smith pulled the plaintiff off the sofa and took her to the floor, and instructed her to lie completely on the floor. Officer Jones observed Officer Smith holding the plaintiff down by the shoulders, and observed the plaintiff kicking at Officer Smith. The plaintiff continued to swing her left arm, attempting to hit Officer Smith, who used his body weight to hold her down while he instructed her several more times to stop resisting.

Officer Smith drew his TASER, removed the dart-cartridge, placed the TASER against the plaintiff’s back, and instructed the plaintiff to stop resisting or he would deploy the TASER. The plaintiff continued active resistance and active aggression. The crowd from the party was closing in on them. Whenever Officer Smith turned his attention to the crowd, the plaintiff would attempt to pull herself away from his hold. Officer Smith was concerned about the crowd, and needed to end the plaintiff’s resistance, especially because he perceived that the crowd was becoming more hostile.

Officer Smith activated the TASER in drive-stun mode for a single, standard five-second cycle.
After the TASER 5-second cycle was complete, the plaintiff continued to attempt to swing at Officer Smith, who was able to successfully place her in handcuffs and remove her from the house.

The plaintiff (the girlfriend) sued the police in federal court for violation of her civil rights via excessive force. The male suspect (who had received a TASER application with darts) did not sue, apparently understanding that his application of a “C-clamp” chokehold warranted the TASER use.

The jury quickly reached a unanimous “defense verdict” supporting the officers and their agency.

Fortunately, the involved agency had solid, defendable use of force policies and an excellent TASER training program.

TASER International issues revised warnings for law enforcement

Effective April 28, 2008, certified TASER instructors have received a revised list of warnings. Since June of 2005, there had been strong warnings about the potential for breathing impairment and other effects of repeated, prolonged TASER exposures. Those 2005 warnings were issued after medical studies involving anesthetized pigs. However, in the interim, there has been much medical research on humans that indicated that the 2005 warnings were overstated.

The following is excerpted from TASER Training Bulletin 14.0-03:

These warnings are being updated to reflect new data from recent human scientific and medical studies which found, in part, the following:

• (Breathing) The available human data directly contradicts prior animal studies and does not reveal any evidence of breathing impairment or respiratory acidosis.

• (Metabolic Acidosis) While prolonged muscle activity does produce lactic acid, human studies of ECD exposures up to 15 seconds (or 3 cycles) have shown that there is no evidence of metabolic acidosis. Strong physical exertion (e.g., resisting law enforcement restraint) can lead to profound metabolic acidosis and measures to limit the period of resistance might be beneficial in already acidotic persons.

• (Rhabdomyolysis) With ECD use, it is reasonable to expect some elevation in markers of skeletal muscle injury consistent with participation in an athletic event; however, this elevation is not believed to be important in the sudden in-custody death phenomenon. Rhabdomyolysis does not cause injury for days after the inciting event and in the case of severe rises in creatine kinase, the clinical course is deteriorating renal function that can be treated with dialysis if needed.

• (Ventricular Fibrillation [VF]) The preponderance of the data, including all of the human studies, suggests that VF is not caused by ECDs in real-world usage. There is no evidence of important electrocardiogram changes, or capture (pacing response of the heart to electrical stimulation), and finite element modeling does not suggest a current density in real-world use able to induce fibrillation in humans. Also, epidemiological studies do not find that real-world human ECD use causes VF.

These new warnings remove the prior warnings regarding breathing impairment and continuous exposure risks. These warnings continue to emphasize the importance of minimizing any application of force or restraint, cuffing under power, and minimizing objectively reasonable force and restraint to accomplish lawful objectives.

To view the entire revised warning document, click here (PDF).


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