USA: Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of Tasers

November 29, 2004

USA: Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of Tasers

View More Research

The paper also reported on the case of 20-year-old Dontae Marks, a bystander who protested when police tried to arrest a friend for being drunk outside a night-club. Police reportedly pointed a Taser at Marks' chest when he refused an order to leave, then tasered him in the back as he walked away shouting an obscenity. Six officers then reportedly grappled with him in a struggle in which Marks was pepper-sprayed and touch-stunned at least ten times while lying face-down on the ground. He was reported to have sustained 13 Taser burn marks across his back, neck, buttocks and the rear of his legs. He was later acquitted on charges of affray and has filed a lawsuit. According to the WW report, an internal police review found the Taser use to be justified.

Dontae Marks' attorney is quoted as saying "They went straight for the Taser because it was quick and easy for them. He was doing what they wanted him to do, but because they didn't believe him, they tased him. And that's what blew the situation up." The following incidents were also cited in the article. All were reportedly found to be within police departmental policy.

  • An 18-year-old was tasered when he told police responding to an under-age drinking party to "get the f…out of my house". He was tasered again when, after complying with an order to put his hands up, his hands started to drop.
  • A driver pulled over on a bridge, angry that his car was being towed away for lack of insurance, was tased after repeatedly complaining and turning his head and body towards an officer.
  • A woman who fell asleep in her parked car was tasered when officers woke her up when they opened her car door and, according to the police report, she glared at them and reached for her pocket. According to the WW review, police reports were inconsistent as to whether or not she was warned before the Taser was used.

The Portland Police Department subsequently reviewed its Taser use, finding that out of 595 uses since a pilot project began in July 2002, only one had been ruled out of policy.(48) In May 2004, Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth reported to the city commissioners that the department would introduce stricter policies and training on Taser use. The new policies would reportedly continue to allow officers to use Tasers against handcuffed suspects but would instruct officers to consider other methods of control before stunning children, pregnant women and the elderly. At the time of writing, plans were underway to expand the deployment of Tasers in the Portland Police Department, by issuing one to every patrol officer.

Chandler, Arizona
The Chandler Police Department, Arizona, is one of several agencies to have compiled detailed statistics about its Taser use in a publicly available report.(49) The report documented 86 uses of the Taser from April through December 2003, 42 of which involved police firing darts at suspects. In 17 cases the Taser was used in touch stun mode and in five cases both the probe deployment and touch stun mode were used.(50) There were also 24 incidents in which the Taser was used in Display Mode only. 97% of dart or stun deployments were in response to "active physical resistance" or higher on the force scale. "Active physical resistance" is defined in departmental policy as "acts of fleeing or escaping" or "suspect attempts to resist arrest without assaulting officer".

The report included a summary of each incident. Most of the incidents involved unarmed suspects who were reportedly engaged in aggressive or disorderly behaviour, and were resisting arrest; many occurred after or during a police chase. A breakdown of Taser usage by "call type" (incident to which the police responded) showed that most police responses were to reports of domestic violence (19% of cases), followed by "suicide attempt" (13%). Others ranged from minor offenses to burglary. There is no indication that any of the incidents were found to violate the Chandler Police Department policy. The reports included use of Tasers to subdue: