The American Civil Liberties Union went to court Thursday to force the San Bernardino County Sheriff to hand over statistics regarding the use of Tasers. The move comes amid scrutiny of Taser policies at police departments around Southern California.
Since 2008, four people have died after being shocked by San Bernardino County deputies, according to the ACLU.
“We want to know how many times officers shock individuals when they deploy their Tasers, and also how long those shocks are in duration,” said ACLU attorney Adrienna Wong.
Amnesty International has called for tighter limits on police use of the weapons. From 2001 to 2012, the group says it recorded 92 deaths following the use of Tasers in California and 500 nationwide.
Taser policies are under scrutiny at police agencies across Southern California, after several high profile deaths.
- In Los Angeles, Carlos Ocana, 54, a homeless mentally ill man sitting atop a downtown billboard fell to his death after LAPD officers used a Taser on him in May of 2014. The incident is under investigation by the department.
- In Fullerton, Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless schizophrenic man died after being shocked multiple times with a Taser and beaten by police in 2011. Two officers were found not guilty of criminal charges, including second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. The incident sparked a national debate on the treatment by police of the homeless and mentally ill.
- In Victorville, Dante Parker, 36, was shocked with a Taser “at least 25 times” by San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies before he died in August of 2014, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed by his family.
A call for guidelines
There are no national standards for Taser use, according to University of South Florida criminologist Lorie Fridell. She encourages law enforcement departments to adopt strict guidelines to avoid fatalities. She pointed to a report by the U.S. Justice Department that suggested limiting the number of times officers use a Taser on a suspect.
“Unless there are extreme circumstances, three activations of five seconds each will be the limit,” Fridell said. “Most importantly, at what level of a subject’s resistance will Tasers be used. We don’t want the Tasers to be used, for instance, against a person who is just being passively resistant.”
Tasers have saved lives too, she said, when officers have used them instead of their guns.
“There are incidents where police could have used deadly force because they were legally justified and they used a taser instead,” Fridell said. “Unfortunately, these are the incidents that don’t make the front page of the newspaper.”
In 2012, a San Bernardino civil grand jury issued a report recommending a wide range of changes in Taser use by sheriff’s deputies. The ACLU is also seeking to force the department to document whether it has implemented those changes.
To date, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department has said it is not obligated to turn over statistics on its use of Tasers.