Challenging the violence done by Tasers
By Henry Porter
A judgment in the US adds to the case that the routine deployment of Tasers in the UK should be examined.
As Kent police order more Taser training to bring the total number officers able to use the Taser to 300, important news comes from the United States, which will affect the way we see this weapon. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has issued a judgment, which classifies the Taser as a heightened level of force and insists that deployment must be justified by an immediate threat posed by the subject. This follows a case when a police officer named Brian McPherson Tasered an unarmed and unthreatening 21-year-old named Carl Bryan whom he had stopped for not wearing a seat belt.
The police officer claimed that Bryan, dressed only in boxer shorts and tennis shoes, took a step towards him – denied by Bryan – and “without giving any warning, shot Bryan with his Taser gun,” says an analysis from the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute.
One of the Taser probes embedded in the side of Bryan’s upper left arm. The electrical current immobilized him whereupon he fell face first into the ground, fracturing four teeth and suffering facial contusions.
The judgment by the appeal court held that the non-lethal force of the Taser “is not synonymous with non-excessive”. Comparing Tasers to non-lethal tools the judgment said, “The physiological effects, the high levels of pain, and foreseeable risk of physical injury lead us to conclude that the (Taser) X26 and similar devices are a greater intrusion than other non-lethal methods of force we have confronted.”
This is crucial. In Britain, the device has been sold to us as a means of protecting police and the law-abiding public from violence, but of course the violence done by Taser against people who are not subsequently charged with a crime is grotesquely disproportionate. We should consider whether relations between the public and the British police – already strained by unusually oppressive behaviour and rudeness – may be terminally affected. Already there is a suspicion that the Taser is being used by British police to punish disobedience, which is essentially why Bryan found himself lying face down with his teeth on the road.
As I reported, the Taser company has suffered a set back in Canada after it issued instructions for police to avoid the chest area when firing at a suspect. The company does not admit the 350 deaths Amnesty International claims have been caused by the stun gun but this certainly acknowledges the danger of heart attacks, and I would suggest that the US court judgement adds to the case that routine deployment of this lethal weapon should be examined in Britain.