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

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  • An "out-of-control" high school student "continued to resist in the patrol car". The Taser was used on the leg as a touch stun to gain compliance.
  • A suspect was stopped for "driving under the influence" and refused to comply with commands to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. The Taser was displayed and he started to comply but placed his hands against his chest. The Taser was then used in touch stun mode.
  • During another arrest for "illegal consumption of alcohol", the "suspect resisted and the Taser was used in touch stun mode to gain compliance".
  • The stun gun was used to gain compliance from a suspect in custody who was refusing to have blood drawn as per a court order. The Taser was used a total of four times against the suspect.

Seattle, Washington
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has issued two reports reviewing the first three years of the department's use of the M26 Advanced Taser: from January 2001 through December 2003. (52) During this period, the department recorded 428 Taser applications. The SPD reported that Tasers were used in a "wide variety of incidents", with "violent crimes and drug/alcohol incidents" together comprising nearly 40% of the situations in which Tasers have been used. In only 23% of cases were the Taser subjects armed, mostly with knives. Nearly two-thirds of Taser subjects (65%) were impaired, often severely, by alcohol, drugs or a mental illness or delusion. The reports cite instances in which lives were saved through police use of Tasers against armed, mentally impaired, individuals. In other cases the subjects did not appear to have engaged in life-threatening behaviour, but were combative or disturbed. Some of the incidents appear relatively minor. Interestingly, the proportion of dart deployments fell in relation to touch stun use over the three-year period. By the end of the third year, Tasers had been deployed in dart projectile mode in 53% of incidents (compared to 56% in 2002 and 60% in 2001) and in touch stun mode in 34% of cases.

According to the above data, in 14% of cases Tasers were deployed against subjects aged 20 or younger, and included at least one minor. This was a case in which an intoxicated male was observed near the fraternity houses of a university district, stumbling and walking into a lamp post. The report's summary of the case states: "when contacted, the subject refused to stop or cooperate, became extremely belligerent and verbally abusive, and then attempted to flee. After several commands to stop, the officer deployed a Taser, which gained the subject's compliance".(53)

The SPD provided a racial break-down of individuals subjected to Tasers through to May 2004, which showed that 45% of subjects were African American and 42% Caucasian.