Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Critical Look at TASER Policy and Effects

Thanks to Eddie G. Griffin (BASG) for providing the following:
May 10, 2:54 AM · Edward Nelson - NY Public Policy Examiner
With the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Bryan v. McPherson, 590 F.3d 767 (9th Cir. 2009), law enforcement heads across the nation are gradually revising their use of force policies surrounding TASER deployment.

The Bryan Court dealt with a 21-year-old Carl Bryan who exited his vehicle at a distance of 20 to 25 feet away from Officer Brian McPherson who had pulled Carl Bryan over for a traffic violation. Standing on the asphalt ground Carl Bryan was wearing tennis shoes and boxer shorts and was positioned with his back facing Officer McPherson. At that point, Officer McPherson deployed his TASER causing Carl Bryan to suffer a non-minor injury as a result of falling face first onto the asphalt fracturing four of his teeth and damaging his face. Finding that a jury could conclude that Officer McPherson used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the court allowed Carl Bryan’s lawsuit to proceed to trial and denied Officer McPherson’s request for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. A reasonable officer would have known that in a situation where force is at its lowest, the target is a nonviolent and stationary misdemeanant, would have concluded that deploying intermediate force without warning was not justified.

If you didn’t know, TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electronic Rifle.

What’s significant about the Bryan Court’s decision is that it recognized that TASERs can actually cause death. In the past, TASER International, Inc. had a practice of suing researchers for making that conclusion. In fact, some researchers have accused TASER International, Inc. of employing intimidation tactics to discourage and prohibit them from publishing research that contends with the “less than lethal” stigmatization strategically associated with TASERs. Normally, researchers make findings and subject their work to the criticisms of their peers if their findings cannot be replicated. Why does that concept not apply to TASERs? Rick Smith, CEO of TASER International, must evaluate his SWOT analysis to include a new externality. America’s courts are now an externality that Mr. Smith must recognize as one of TASER International’s weaknesses and threats. The author John Grisham shows how easy it is for a company to purchase a judge to favor its position in his latest book titled, “The Appeal.” However, that would be a serious invocation of Game Theory on the part of TASER International.

Nationally, TASER International has placed itself in a powerful, yet, unique position of steering policy for law enforcement agencies nationwide. Law enforcement heads are forced to rely entirely on TASER International’s training and policies on use, deployment, and research methods. Unfortunately, the Chiefs of Police that use TASERs have delegated their duty to protect the public to a Fortune 500 business like TASER International whose sole concern is its bottom line. A government functions on inputs that maximize outputs. Apparently the TASER is the input and the death of a citizen is the output. Even an insignificant number like 1% of the nation dying from in custody death syndrome and excited delirium syndrome is too much. Stated another way, the trade off is more officers living and a marginal number of citizens dying. As government officials, law enforcement administrators should be concerned with protecting the individual rights of each individual citizen; a publicly traded IPO company like TASER International, trading under the ticker symbol TASR, is not concerned with individual rights.

While TASER International can write-off the deaths of 334 citizens mentioned by Amnesty International between 2001 and 2008 as collateral damage, law enforcement administrators must consider the individual rights of each person on a case-by-case basis. If not, they are deliberately indifferent to the Constitutional rights of the population of citizens they are hired to serve. Everyday anecdotal evidence is mounting and increasingly shows that TASERed citizens are dying in the custody of police officers. However, with TASER International steering the policies of law enforcement on TASER usage and training, the in custody death syndrome immediately following TASER usage is remarkably written-off as if death is the cost of not complying with police officers. If the officer, victim, or bystander is not facing an imminent threat from a subject, the deployment of a TASER would be unreasonably excessive. On March 3, 2010, an officer TASERed a 17 year old Philadelphia Phillies fan simply for running on the baseball field. The incident has caused a lot of public clamor because the officer, a victim, nor bystander was threatened by the 17 year old when he ran onto the baseball field. Unfortunately, the lesson behind the incident is that it shows how officers arbitrarily and capriciously use their TASERs.

Law enforcement officials have tenaciously maintained that TASERs save lives. Agreed! When used appropriately, TASERs can save lives. But an inappropriate use of a TASER by law enforcement is a rare finding. Statistically, the chance of finding a citizen dead from in custody death syndrome is greater than finding an officer improperly used a TASER. Even law enforcement officers have sued TASER International claiming that they were injured by a TASER during their training. In another instance, an officer’s TASER malfunctioned as he pursued a perpetrator and he was shot six times. TASER International was sued as a result. Therefore, the claims against TASER International and law enforcement aren’t isolated to members of the public. Moreover, it begs the question of whether TASER International knows, or, expects deadly malfunctions in its TASER product prior to marketing.
TASER International has warned that TASERs can contribute in death if the following variables are present within a TASERed subject:

alcohol intoxication
So why are officers deploying TASERs on drug abusers when there is a real possibility of death occurring? If law enforcement agencies have no policy directing officers to refrain from deploying their TASERs on the above category of individuals, the answer is clear: It’s because their municipality has become deliberately indifferent to the individual rights of intoxicated /drugged citizens. A well informed law enforcement agency would know from anecdotal evidence collected on excited delirium syndrome and in custody death syndrome that those citizens who are intoxicated, high on cocaine or methamphetamine fall within a category of individuals that are likely to die post-TASER deployment. Unfortunately, post-TASER deployment has a medical aspect that makes most law enforcement administrators appear acutely obtuse and woefully incapable of understanding the injurious nature of TASER weaponry. Over the years, a medical examiner’s finding of excited delirium syndrome or in custody death syndrome is the only justification required to relieve an officer of liability for a citizen’s death. Today, excited delirium syndrome is a questionable medical condition in the medical community.

Lawyers that are worth their salt have quickly learned that the preparation of litigation against TASER International and law enforcement requires that they be as savvy as TASER’s medical experts regarding excited delirium syndrome and in custody death syndrome. Commonly, the coups de grace in TASER litigation involves a showing of death or non-minor injury resulting from brain injury, cardiac arrest, short term loss of memory, cardiac infarction, and metabolic acidosis proximately caused by a TASER. As alluded to earlier, TASER International is an aggressive publicly traded company concerned about its bottom line and answers to a board of directors. To maintain a pristine public image, TASER International strategically uses sneaky semantics, omissions, lawsuits, dry threats, scandalous and vexatious comments to fend off any undesired comments that can potentially have a negative economic impact on its TASER product. TASER International has successfully sued medical examiners to change the cause of death on a death certificate from being associated with a TASER to being “accidental.”

Unlike most weapons that cause visible superficial wounds, the TASER permeates the human body internally using voltage and amperes to overwhelm neurotransmitters emanating from the brain. In other words, it has a subtle way of causing damage to the body’s internal biological functions. It’s the fluctuating AC (alternative current) power source that causes the muscles within the body to experience a condition called tetany. Meaning the AC power source actually causes the muscles within the body to contract when in contact with an AC power source. However, a DC (direct current) power source pushes a person away when contact is made. The electricity from a TASER travels through the body looking for a place to ground. However, for the brief moment that it takes residence within the human body, the electricity from the TASER quickly transforms plasma glucose into lactic acid which ultimately forms a condition called metabolic acidosis. It’s important to note that a primary source of energy for the brain is glucose. Now imagine your brain’s primary source of energy being transformed into lactic acid. That’s a problem! Even a person with minimal medical experience would know that the heart is the biggest muscle in the body. Yet, researchers are divided as to whether a TASER can cause cardiac arrest.

Comparatively, TASER litigation reminds me of the long and hard fight attorneys had with cigarette companies. Remember the days when cigarette companies said their product was safe? Well, the federal government must have the same feeling because the National Institute of Justice is currently soliciting to fund research for a “less-lethal” weapon that is safer than a TASER. This article is dedicated to the memory of all those American citizens who gave their lives so law enforcement officers could enjoy deploying their new toys in the absence of perceiving an imminent threat to themselves, bystanders or victims. It’s because all of you existed that others are inspired to find the truth concerning your deaths. May your souls find rest!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Are Small Town Rhode Island Police Officers Overzealous With Traffic Fines?

In a little-city suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, there is a police officer who is notorious for sitting in his squad car, hidden at the side of the road, and waiting for drivers to pass by, traveling at rates as little as two miles per hour above the speed limit. He writes an extraordinary number of speeding citations for minor deviations from the speed limit, and he writes an extraordinary number of other citations for offenses that many local citizens consider to be de minimus infractions.

Can any reader tell me the name of the town, the name of the officer, and the name of the judge(s) who review these tickets when these cases are appealed and come before the courts?

Is this officer appropriately zealous in protecting the public by enforcing traffic regulations to the letter of the law? Or is he giving Rhode Island government and law enforcement a bad name by harassing law-abiding citizens who are doing their best to drive safely and whose only meaningful "offense" has been to drive down the same road where this allegedly over-zealous police officer is hidden in waiting?

If you have an experience to recount about small-town Rhode Island traffic enforcement and you would like to do so anonymously, please feel free tell your experiences anonymously in the comments below, but please do include the name(s) of the town(s), location(s), policing officer(s), judge(s) and traffic court(s) with jurisdiction over traffic citations.

Please feel free not to include names of private citizens, who do have a right to their privacy and should not be targeted for retribution.

If we find that there is a pattern (or patterns) of over-zealous and inappropriate persecution of mild-mannered small-town Rhode Island drivers, who are going about their own business conscientiously way, then maybe some readers would like to report their experiences using their names for attribution (or send a confidential e-mail to this blog at francislholland at gmail.com (remember to include the @).

My belief is that Rhode Island newspapers like the Providence Journal will investigate over-zealous officers, if they read significant numbers of sufficiently specific complaints in blogs such as this one, about those officers who are supposed to protect and to serve, particularly when they wear a badge and operate under color of law.

No one wants to make herself the target of an already-over-zealous police officer, so please feel free to comment anonymously, including as much detail as you comfortably can.

Although I am a trained attorney who has practiced law in the United States, I am not currently admitted to the Bar of any state and cannot offer legal advice in public or in private. I write and discuss police brutality with readers strictly in my capacity as a citizen journalist.

Whatever your experience with Rhode Island traffic police, please remember the brighter side: at least you didn't end up looking like Esteban Carpio did when Providence police officers brought him to court with his face turned to virtual hamburger, which police covered with an (to my experience) unprecedented white Batman mask.

NYC Minorities Frisked More but Arrested at Same Rate

The New York Times says in a very informative article about the overwhelming difference between stop and frisk rates of whites and others in New York City:
Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but no more likely to be arrested.
( . . .)
According to the analysis of the 2009 raw data by the Center for Constitutional Rights, nearly 490,000 blacks and Latinos were stopped by the police on the streets last year, compared with 53,000 whites.

But once stopped, the arrest rates were virtually the same. Whites were arrested in slightly more than 6 percent of the stops, blacks in slightly fewer than 6 percent. About 1.7 percent of whites who were stopped were found to have a weapon, while 1.1 percent of blacks were found with one.

What I find most troubling is this: If police are able to find just as much reason to arrest whites even when whites are stopped and frisked only 1/10th as much as Blacks and Latinos, then if police INCREASED the stop and frisk rate of whites then they would probably also increase the rate of arrests made of whites.

Look at it this way, in the land of driverless white and black drone cars: If ALL cars have weapons in them but the white cars are stopped half as often, then police will find the same rate of weapons among both groups of cars, but white cars will proceed with weapons unmolested, even though increasing stops of white cars would increase the number of weapons found in white cars.

Or, let's look at it another way: In spite of an all out effort to find crime among Blacks, targeting Blacks almost ten times as much as whites, police have been unable to show that Blacks are more likely to have weapons than whites. Perhaps if the police stopped every single Black person who left his house, the police still wouldn't find more reasons to arrest Blacks than whites. And that's what these statistics are showing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is a Small Jail in Illinois Ground Zero for Taser Abuse?

Submitted by Ruth.

Just about an hour south of Chicago sits an obscure Kankakee County jail, the Jerome Combs Detention Center, a 668-bed facility that may just be one of the country's worst centers of Taser abuse. Inmates have filed at least 15 lawsuits over the past four years regarding Taser-related abuses — an unusual number, according to law enforcement experts. Some of them describe Taser use while inmates were already in restraint chairs or handcuffs. One described an inmate being Tased while weak from a hunger strike; another inmate described being "shock[ed] almost to death." Yet another inmate said he was Tased multiple times while officers taunted him with racial slurs.

According to an investigation by The Chicago Reporter and The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, at least 101 inmates in the jail were shocked by a Taser between mid-August 2007 and mid-December 2009, and a quarter of these incidents occurred while the inmates were restrained. Only 4 percent of the Taser firings were officially reported.

Since 2005, Chicago has been sending inmates from its own overcrowded Cook County Jail to be housed at the Jerome Combs facility, bringing in $1.4 million in revenue for Kankakee County. Several potentially unjustified Tasings occurred in response to these detainees protesting mistreatment at their new home.

The investigation, "Taser Timeout," was reported by Kelly Virella and appears in the May/June 2010 issue of The Chicago Reporter. It is available on-line here:

Press inquiries may be directed to Ruth Baldwin at The Nation Institute, at ruth@nationinstitute.org or 212-822-0266.

We hope you enjoy the read!