Saturday, January 22, 2011

Police officers suing Taser International

Via digby at Hullabaloo (who has written many great posts on Tasers), police officers have been suing Taser International for injuries sustained during police training.
A Dallas police officer has filed the latest in a string of lawsuits around the country that claim jolts of electricity received during Taser training caused fractured backs and other severe injuries.
The makers of the popular stun gun, however, say that their products are safe and credit them with saving lives by providing officers with a nonlethal option to guns when confronting unruly criminals.
Dallas police Officer Andrew Butler’s lawsuit, filed Jan. 6 against Taser International, is thought to be the first of its kind in Texas. He alleges Taser did not fully disclose the risks associated with being shot with the device in the academy to his police trainers. The city of Dallas is not a defendant.
“I love my department. I love being a cop. But I dodged a bullet,” said Butler, who was able to return to patrol after he had surgery to replace a fractured vertebra. “I can’t live with having knowledge that this can harm an officer and not do something.”
The dangers of Tasers have been known for years. In Dallas, the deaths of at least two drug-addled suspects who were stunned during arrests have been connected in part to shocks from the devices.
But in recent years, police officers around the country have begun filing lawsuits claiming they were hurt when taking a Taser shot. The stun guns are regularly used on recruits in training at many police academies.
“That has been the secret injury that Taser doesn’t like to talk about,” said Robert Haslam, a Fort Worth attorney who is chairman of the American Association for Justice’s Taser Litigation Group.
Several dozen lawsuits by police officers have been filed, but only one has gone to trial. Taser prevailed in that 2005 Arizona case because the officer had a pre-existing back condition, said John Dillingham, the Phoenix attorney who represented the injured former Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy.
Dillingham said the half-dozen other cases of injured officers which he’s handled have been dismissed, but he declined to talk about settlement agreements.
While tasers and similar weapons do have a legitimate use, I'm glad to see cops give some pushback on them.  The fact that tasers won't necessarily kill you, doesn't excuse the overuse of them.  If the courts recognize claims such as these, that may be precedent (if not legally, then perhaps socially) for civilians to recognize the wrongful use of these weapons in non-defensive situations.

Just because these weapons (and they are weapons) won't necessarily kill you should not give the police the right to use them for purposes outside of the reasons for which they would have previously used guns or batons.  Simple noncompliance should not be considered reason to apply this type of weaponry on people.  The fact that it doesn't necessarily look as ugly as a beating doesn't mean that it isn't still wrong (and sometimes still as deadly).

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