Federal court in California limits police use of Tasers
The appeals court ruling could raise the bar for when the electric stun-guns can be deployed. Local police departments said the ruling puts officers' lives in danger.
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In cases where suspects appear mentally ill, the court found, officers should apply even more caution before using stun guns. "[If] Officer McPherson believed Bryan was mentally disturbed, he should have made greater effort to take control of the situation through less intrusive means," Wardlaw wrote.Skip to next paragraph
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While Taser weapons have been considered nonlethal in the courts, the federal circuit court said the guns should not be treated like other nonlethal weapons such as pepper spray and batons. “The physiological effects, the high levels of pain, and foreseeable risk of physical injury lead us to conclude that [stun guns] are a greater intrusion than other non-lethal methods of force we have confronted,” Wardlaw wrote.
Law enforcement groups react
Human rights groups have been critical of Tasers and other conducted energy devices, or CEDs, as their use has spread among police departments in the US and elsewhere. A 2008 Amnesty International report says that since June 2001, more than 330 people in the USA have been reported to have died after being struck by police Tasers and 25 similar deaths reported in Canada.
But many law enforcement groups as well as Taser International, the makers of the stun gun, credit the weapons with protecting officers and reducing suspect injuries. “Taser devices have reduced officer and suspect injures by as much as 30 to 80 percent in some communities,” a statement on the Taser International wesbite says.
Many police departments allow the stun guns to be deployed even when suspects are not violent or an immediate threat, experts say.
“Some departments allow Tasers in cases of passive resistance, such as protesters who won't move," Michael Gennaco, who has studied the use of Taser weapons in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. He said the ruling would end the use of Taser in cases of passive resistance.
Answering questions at a news conference Tuesday, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon called the Taser device “a sophisticated weapon system to be used under the right circumstance ... It should be used when officers fear being assaulted."
San Francisco is one of the few police departments where officers are not outfitted with stun guns. Chief Gascon would like to see that change.
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