Police stun elderly man in Florida: Are cops overusing Tasers?

A Florida police officer uses a stun gun on an elderly man in Key West, who appears to be surrendering with his hands up.  Miami's three major police departments have used Tasers on more than 3,000 people since 2007. Some 11 men have died after being stunned

Photo courtesy of TASER International, Scottsdale, AZ
The TASER(R) X26P(TM) conducted energy weapon (with dual shot capability. A similar stun gun was used by Florida police to detain an elderly man.

Florida police are coming under fire after a video emerged showing a police officer tasering an elderly man in Key West, who appears to be surrendering.

The episode is the latest in a recent spate of Taser  incidents by the Florida police, that has some criticizing the police for excessive use of stun guns. 

In the latest example, a cellphone video, taken by a vacationing couple in the car nearby, shows the tasering incident.

In the video, a Florida police officer tries to open a minivan passenger door unsuccessfully. When it does open, a man with glasses and thinning hair steps out, with his hands in the air. One officer twists his arm, while another officer shouts and quickly tasers the man. The video shows the man screams once after being hit, and falls on road face down before being handcuffed by police.

There's no context to know what went on prior to the use of the stun gun. Sky News reports that a Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman said: "The incident is under investigation." Captain Nancy Rasmussen said that, as part of their investigation, authorities will determine whether the two officers involved might face any disciplinary action.

The video was reportedly shot by a tourist who was on his way to Key West with his family.

The incident is the latest in a recent series of tasering episodes by the Florida police. Last week, 25-year-old Lavall Hall, a mentally ill man armed with a broomstick, was twice tasered by police in Miami before being shot and killed. In January, Key Largo teen Roberto Ornelas, died after being tasered on New Year’s Day. In October of last year, 62-year-old Viola Young was tasered in the back by Tallahassee police. And in August 2013, 18-year-old Israel Hernandez died in Miami Beach after being tasered by police. 

Police brutality is always a hot-button issue, but the use of force by law enforcement officers is under additional scrutiny following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., both of whom died after encounters with police.

In the wake of those high-profile deaths, some have called for police to use non-lethal weapons, such as stun guns. 

Wayne Fisher, a professor with the Rutgers University Police Institute in New Jersey, told The Los Angeles Times that stun guns are usually best used in situations where officers would otherwise have to subdue a suspect with a baton or other physical force. In those cases, stun guns are far less likely to cause permanent or serious injury.

“Generally a stun gun is usable where there is discretionary time during which the officer has to make a decision about the best course of action," he said. "If the facts are such that deadly force is immediately called for, a stun gun is not a suitable alternative.”

In Florida, police have been roundly criticized for excessive use of Tasers.

In December 2014, the Miami New Times published a year-long investigation into Taser use by local police. It found that Miami's three major police departments have tasered more than 3,000 people in less than eight years. Some 11 men have died after being stunned. It also found that Miami police have tasered kids as young as six, as well as the mentally ill.

According to a Miami New Times interview with Taser International, which makes the stun gun, more than 17,000 US law enforcement agencies currently use the device, and Tasers are used about 904 times per day across the US.

Though stun guns are marketed as a non-lethal weapon, Amnesty International reported that between 2001 and 2008 at least 351 people died in the US after being tasered by police officers.

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