Why Are Cops Tasering Grandmothers, Pregnant Women and Kids?
Continued from previous page
And those are the ones that lived. The black man tasered nine times in 14 minutes? Not so lucky.
"You're picking plane crashes," argued Steve Tuttle, vice-president of communications and one of Taser International's founding members, by phone to AlterNet. "We're not in the business of armchair quarterbacking, and we don't write the use-of-force policies. That's left up to individual agencies and the constitutional guidelines. When we see the controversies, we have to take a look at the totality of the circumstances."
To Tuttle's credit, he didn't shy away from the controversies surrounding his company, and even correctly characterized the aforementioned, egregious situations: They are indeed plane crashes, full of human and mechanical wreckage that are nearly impossible to turn away from. And with each new astounding report, they're bringing more heat onto the already embattled company, whose stock has plummeted nearly 80 percent since 2005. In 2008, Taser had to dish out $5 million in punitive damages after a product-liability suit found the company to blame for improperly informing police that repeated shocks could kill suspects such as Robert Heston, who died after police officers in California tasered him multiple times until he stopped moving. In addition, Taser has settled at least ten cases out of court with not distraught suspects but rather police officers, who were injured by tasers during training.
The disturbing developments caught the watchful eye of Amnesty International, which publicly worried that tasers were quickly becoming " tools of routine force."
"There is plenty of evidence that the use of conducted energy devices now frequently -- even routinely -- occurs in situations where there is no significant threat to law enforcement officers," Amnesty International spokesperson Wendy Gozan Brown explained to AlterNet. "Rather than being used as weapons of last resort, police employ tasers without considering the consequences. About 90 percent of the more than 350 people who have died in the U.S. after being shocked with such weapons were unarmed. And in dozens of cases, medical examiners have found CEDs to be a cause or contributory factor of death."
For his part, Tuttle admitted the danger, but he's still hurt by Amnesty International's approach. Or is that reproach?
"We've reached out to Amnesty International with olive branches and with iron gloves," he said. "We're not that dissimilar; we both want to protect human rights. They're selectively choosing the incidents."
In Taser's defense, its deployment has displaced other mid-range weaponry like pepper spray and batons -- "a caveman's tool," asserted Tuttle -- and even more old-fashioned, hands-on techniques like punching, kicking and chokeholds. And the use of tasers has decreased danger to both suspects and officers, according to some unlikely sources.
"I've seen the early adoption of these weapons as they bloomed across the country," explained Scott Greenwood, lead counsel and police misconduct litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) national chapter, "in large part because the traditional use-of-force continuum hasn't done a good job filling in the range between the club and the firearm. If you have very serious and very strict use-of-force policy, very good training and a very strong culture of reporting, then you see injuries to citizens radically decrease and you see a radical decrease of deadly force. That's from departments that do it the right way; it's the departments that do it the wrong way," that are causing the most problems, Greenwood clarified.
Greenwood's caveats aside, it is always those who misuse any product, from prescription medication to high-fructose corn syrup and beyond, that mess it up for everyone else going by the book, so to speak. The disastrous misapplication of tasers has no greater example than Iman Morales, the mentally disturbed man who was tasered on building ledge in New York, and fell immobilized to his death. Shortly after the controversial episode, NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly said such use of the taser might have violated policy and new training was needed. He also replaced the new commander of the Emergency Service Unit that responded to Morales' disturbance. But it was all too late for lieutenant Michael Pigott, the officer who ordered the tasering of Morales: He was stripped of his gun and badge, demoted and later shot himself in the head in a NYPD locker room after finding out that he might be a criminal suspect in Morales' death.