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The 6 Most Shocking Cases of Police Stun-Gun Abuse

Some of the most egregious examples of taser abuse by police around the country, illustrating why the willy-nilly increase of taser use is terrible for citizens.
 
 
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Take a police force that’s notorious for its use of excessive force, add a massive arsenal of tasers, put those weapons in the hands of low-level patrol officers, and what do you get?

If you guessed “an awful mess of civil rights abuses and safety concerns,” then, unfortunately, you’re correct. A new report from the City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct cases in the city, has found that incidences of taser use by Chicago police officers increased by nearly 350% over the past year in the wake of the department’s decision to more than double its taser arsenal in the name of “increasing officer safety” and “defusing trouble.”

Here are the numbers: In March, the department decided to increase its supply of tasers from 280 to 660 and began putting them in every patrol officer’s squad car. (Previously, only sergeants and field training officers were allowed to carry tasers.) As a direct result, Chicago officers used tasers a whopping 683 times in the 12-month period ending September 30, compared to 197 times in 2009 and 163 in 2008.

The problem with the increase is that tasers are far too often used inappropriately – on innocent citizens and minors, for instance – and they’ve been proven to be unsafe, causing dozens of heart problems and even deaths. To make matters worse, Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority has said it will no longer investigate every case of police taser use, arguing that the growing caseload is overwhelming the short-staffed office. Instead, it will only investigate taser use “if allegations of misconduct are made, serious injury or death resulted, or a minor or senior citizen was targeted.”

Chicago’s unchecked use of tasers is setting a dangerous example for the rest of the country to follow, as it opens the door to rampant abuses of power. There are myriad stories of taser-happy police officers wreaking havoc on people’s lives that should give us pause on that matter. Below are some of the most egregious examples of taser abuse by police in Chicago and elsewhere in the country, illustrating why the willy-nilly increase of taser use is terrible for citizens.

1. Man having diabetic seizure tasered 11 times: In April 2009, Prospero Lassi suffered a diabetes-induced seizure at his home in the Chicago suburb of LaGrange Park. Lassi’s roommate called 911, and both EMTs and police responded. When the EMTs asked police officers to help move Lassi, who had been unable to move his body, one of Lassi’s arms flailed uncontrollably, striking one of the officers. According to Lassi, he was then tasered an incredible 11 times, for nearly a minute, as he lay immobilized. The attack was so severe that Lassi was hospitalized for five days and out of work for three months due to the injuries he sustained that day.

2. Officers taser 14-year-old boy, sending him into cardiac arrest:In February 2005, Chicago police were called on a young teenager living in a state group home who was reportedly acting out. According to Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris, the boy had calmed down and was sitting on a couch when the police arrived. Nevertheless, officers said the boy lunged at them, so they tasered him, sending him into cardiac arrest.

3. Officers repeatedly taser, threaten to sodomize foster children:Elsewhere in Illinois, at the Southern Thirty Adolescent Center in Mt. Vernon, two officers lashed out unprovoked at several foster youth in July 2008, repeatedly using a taser on them. One of the officers also threatened to sodomize a young man, causing the boy to soil himself. Both the county sheriff and  the Illinois State Police determined that the officers had done nothing wrong. A lawsuit brought against the officers was settled for $750,000.

4. Mentally ill man falls to his death after being tasered:In September 2008, police were called on a “naked and apparently emotionally disturbed” man who was yelling and swinging a light fixture from a Brooklyn window ledge. Rather than try to get the man down safely, an officer shot him with a taser, and the man fell to his death. As a tragic coda to the story, the lieutenant who ordered that the man be tasered took his own life shortly thereafter.

5. Bipolar man killed by taser for running down street naked:In another case of police inappropriately deploying tasers to subdue mentally ill individuals, a bipolar man in Arizona was tasered in June 2009 when he was found running down the street naked during a manic episode. After the unarmed man plead with officers not to shoot, they did anyway, twice, ultimately killing him. Even worse, neither of the officers at the scene bothered to check if the man was still breathing after the attack.

6. 10-year-old child tasered at day care:A young child at Tender Teddies Day Care in Martinsville, Indiana, who was “kicking and screaming” was, absurdly, taseredby police officers “to prevent [him] from hurting other children, staff members and himself.” The two responding officers were investigated for using excessive force.

These are, of course, just a few examples that point to a much larger problem of taser abuse by police. Until it’s proved that the weapons are truly non-lethal – and that police can use them responsibly – we should push back against efforts like Chicago’s to get more tasers into more officer’s hands.

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn.
 
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