"Don't Tase Me, BRO":
ACLU Advises Ashland Approach;
UN Committee Says Weapons' Use Can Be "Torture"

Tasers, the "Conducted Energy Devices" (CEDs) which jolt people with 50,000 volts

of electricity, have come into the spotlight in various circumstances. The ACLU of Oregon issued a report calling for reform in the Ashland Police Department; a student in Florida was zapped for asking questions; and the UN Committee on Torture said the devices "provoke extreme pain, constitute a form of torture, and....could also cause death" (CBS/AP, November 25).

The ACLU's report was in part in response to the 2006 death of Nicholas Hanson at Southern Oregon University in Ashland (PPR #38). They examined all six uses of CEDs by the Ashland police from 2004-2006 (when Portland Police used Tasers no less than 861 times), determining only one was justified. The report recommends that Tasers be used only when a person "creates an immediate, credible threat" and "there is a substantial likelihood the situation could lead to death or physical injury (impairment of physical condition or substantial pain)." It also suggests many of the restrictions already in place in Portland, such as prohibiting use on children, elderly people, pregnant women, or "medically fragile" persons, and not to apply more than three five-second blasts. Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness appears open to many of the changes (Associated Press, September 13).

The UN Committee's report came on the heels of a week in November in which six people died after being hit by Tasers (in Frederick, Maryland; two in Jacksonville, Florida; Raton, New Mexico; Vancouver, BC and Halifax, Nova Scotia), citing "reliable studies" and noting the devices could be in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. Taser International got defensive, as we have documented in the past (PPRs #32, 33, 34....), saying for instance, that Robert Dziekanski, a man whose death in a Vancouver airport in October was caught on video, was "continuing to fight well after the TASER application, [which] could not be possible if the subject died as a result of" Taser-induced cardiac arrest. It was probably just a coincidence.

In a highly publicized incident, a student asking questions of Senator John Kerry was hit by a Taser while fellow students laughed and applauded. (He shouted "Don't tase me, bro!" now something of a catch- phrase.) A state investigation found the University of Florida police were justified (Oregonian, October 25).

Meanwhile, Oregon's prisons have, unfortunately, adopted the weapons, with 100 corrections officers training on how to zap inmates using their 20-30 camera-equippped Tasers (Oregonian, October 2). Let's hope they aren't all like the Multnomah Deputy who takes glee in using "stun guns".

Also, the PPB faces another lawsuit because Officer Christopher Verbout (#44441) tasered Don Shepard, Jr. in September, 2005 after he suffered a seizure while driving to work. Shepard says he was also beaten and had his leg broken by other officers (Willamette Week, October 3).


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