DecaLogos Condemns the Taser
September 6, 2010
On September 5, 2010, the Snohomish County, Washington Sheriff’s department killed a 25-year-old man in the small Washington town of Gold Bar. According to the sheriff’s deputies, the man reportedly charged one of the deputies.1
On September 2, 2010, Pierce County, Washington Sheriff’s department killed a 27-year-old man using a Taser. He received the death sentence by electrocution because he was reportedly causing a disturbance at an apartment complex.2
On August 18, 2010, a 50-year-old man being held in custody in a California jail was Tasered to death by deputies. Martin Harrison was in custody for drunk driving. The police who used this device to kill this man claim that the second Tasering was done after Harrison attacked the deputy who had Tasered him initially. No reason was given why the first use was initiated.3
The use of the Taser is condemned as torture by the UN Committee Against Torture, and the Taser has been used indiscriminately as a device of torture by police in certain jurisdictions, without probable cause or procedural safeguards.
On August 23, 2010, a 31-year-old father of four was Tasered to death by the Washtenaw County, Michigan police during a drug bust. According to police, they administered the death sentence by high voltage electrocution when Stanley Jackson “resisted arrest.” Jackson was a former high school running back and had no known medical problems.4 According to the report, several Michigan residents have died after being shot by police Taser guns. A 16-year-old boy died last year after being Tasered by sheriff’s deputies in Warren, Michigan, and the Bloomfield Township police Tasered a driver to death last fall.5
The Taser – a weapon that can fire up to 50,000 volts used now by police in thousand police departments throughout the United States, in Canada and the United Kingdom to incapacitate a person - is a lethal device which has killed civilians in the US, most of whom were in custody.
Police are using Tasers, devices touted as being non-lethal, to torture suspects in cases where the suspect has not been arrested, or in cases where the suspect is already in custody and used with the claim that the suspect was “resisting arrest.”6 In one case, the police Tasered a man to death while the suspect was handcuffed and down on the ground, administering two shocks after the man had already died.
Baron Pikes, a 21-year-old man, was Tasered nine times by a police officer in January in Winnfield, Louisiana. He had stopped twitching after seven, according to a coroner’s report. Soon afterward, Pikes was dead. The Coroner said that Pike was already handcuffed and on the ground when first hit with the Taser. Apparently, the suspect was being disobedient in failing to get up when ordered, so the police repeatedly tortured him with electrocution until he died, and then electrocuted the corpse thereafter.7
Taser International, the manufacturer of the electrocution device, was required to place 18 new warnings on the device and to retract the use of the phrase “non-lethal” in it marketing campaigns, as a result of an investigation by the attorney general of Arizona. As of 2005, 22 states started actions against Taser products and some states have introduced background checks and other restrictions on the private ownership of these devices.8
In November, 2007, the UN Committee against Torture declared the use of the Taser to be a form of torture, saying that “the use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,” and that “in certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events.” This statement was issued by a committee of 10 within the UN agency. The agency says that the use of the Taser “can have a grave physical and mental impact on those targeted.”9
The agency cited as examples three men, all in their early 20s, who were reported to have died in the US that week, following the death of a 40-year-old man at the Vancouver, British Columbia airport who had been Tasered by Canadian police. His death was the third in Canada in a five week period from the use of Tasers.
Although Taser International claims that deaths have been shown by “medical science and forensic analysis” to be “attributable to other factors and not the low-energy electrical discharge of the Taser,” the proper analysis is proximate cause and supervening illegality. For instance, a robber who at gun point causes the heart attack of an elderly victim is nonetheless guilty of felony murder, so an analysis under direct and proximate cause is warranted concerning the deaths of individuals who were living the minute before they were Tasered to death. But for the use of the Taser, the individuals would still be living.
Amnesty International claimed in 2007 that there had been 156 deaths caused by police using the Taser in the United States. 7,000 police departments used the device in the US. Amnesty’s claim and the U.N. report are sufficient notice to police departments that the devices are in fact lethal to warrant the assignment of liability to both the officers deploying the device in the field and the departments themselves on the basis of foreseeable knowledge.
DecaLogos International condemns the use of the Taser by police departments without regimens similar to the controls placed on the use of firearms, as the Taser has been shown to be a lethal weapon. Fundamental Human Rights require that the police use only commensurate force in the making of an arrest, and that the use of such force be strictly monitored by supervisors within the force.
The Taser is now being deployed as a weapon of torture and death by rogue police and police departments, all of which need to be held accountable in the courts of this nation for the damages they have caused.
- Associated Press, Sultan man dead after Taser shock in Gold Bar, Originally published Sunday, September 5, Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012817485_apwataserdeath.html T
- The Associated Press, 5 killed in a week in Wash. police encounters, Seattle Times, Originally published Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 2:55 PM. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012812557_apwapoliceshootingswash2ndldwritethru.html?prmid=obinsource.
- The Associated Press, Man dies after being shocked by Taser in jail, 08/18/2010 05:24:41 PM PDT http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/ci_15820212?nclick_check=1
- Eartha Jane Melzer, Man dies after Taser shots from Washtenaw County police, Michigan Messenger, 8/23/10 2:47 PM, http://michiganmessenger.com/41226/man-dies-after-taser-shots-from-washtenaw-county-police
- See the Affidavit of Justin Bell, copy by request.
- Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick, Man dies after cop hits him with Taser 9 times, CNN, updated 8:09 p.m. EDT, Tue July 22, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/07/22/taser.death/index.html
- James Sturcke, Rosalind Ryan, Police stun-gun may be lethal, firm admits, Monday 3 October 2005 11.29 BST, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/oct/03/ukcrime.jamessturcke
- Correspondents in Geneva, Tasers a form of torture, says UN, November 24, 2007 4:44PM, The Daily Telegraph