Amnesty International
Calls For Taser Suspension
By Ihosvani Rodriguez
Miami Bureau South Florida
Police departments throughout the nation are abusing the use of Tasers, firing them on children, the elderly and in situations that do not merit the use of a 50,000-volt jolt, a report released Monday by Amnesty International concluded.
In calling for the temporary suspension of Taser use, the human rights group points to the rising number of deaths it has linked to incidents in which electro-shock weapons were used.
The group included in its report the 2003 death of a 31-year old Pembroke Pines man who died after being zapped and tied and the 2002 death of a homeless man who struggled with Hollywood police officers.
The release of the report comes at a time when the Miami-Dade Police Department is reviewing its Taser policy after officers used a stun gun on a 6-year-old Miami boy and a 12-year-old girl this year in separate incidents and the resignation of a Boyton Beach officer who zapped a prisoner inside a holding cell.
While acknowledging the importance of using a non-lethal weapon to combat crime and saving lives, Amnesty officials, longtime foes of less-than-lethal weapons, worry that the excessive use of Tasers will lead to more deaths and human rights violations.
"They've become part of their routine use. We've been seeing occasions in which a person didn't want to show an ID, or didn't move fast enough, or didn't do what the officer told them to do on the moment he said to do it," said Amnesty spokesman Edward Jackson. "We've seen instances in which a person was repeatedly hit with a Taser, sometimes up to five times, violating the international standards prohibiting torture or the cruel treatment of humans."
Local police officials took issues with the report, saying Tasers have decreased the use of deadly force.
More importantly, there has been no evidence linking the weapons to the reported deaths, they said.
"Since we began using Tasers, we've had only one [police gun fired] in two years. That's an amazing statistic," said Miami Police Chief John Timoney.
"I was looking at some reports this weekend and I can guarantee that if it wasn't for the Taser, some of these people would've been shot with a gun," the police chief said.
Timoney, who added that his department has strict guidelines on Taser use, vowed to discipline any officer who violates them.
Police officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties declined to comment, saying they had not seen the organization's report.
Miami-Dade Police officials, who have come under fire for the stunning of the 6-year-old, say they are reviewing their policy.
They also dismissed the Amnesty International report.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinions and drawing their own studies," said Miami-Dade spokesman Robert Williams. "We're drawing our own study and working with community groups, and we will be looking into all aspects of the policy."
In its report, Amnesty International identified 74 people who died after being shocked with a Taser, 12 in Florida.
The 97-page report, which devotes an entire chapter to Florida, also highlights other South Florida incidents in which the organization deemed abusive or excessive.
They include an incident in which a 15-year-old girl was pepper sprayed and then stunned during an argument with a Miramar police officer in 2002, and a mentally ill woman who was jolted after interrupting a seminar at a country club in Pembroke Pines.
In each of the cases cited in the report, police administrators justified the use of force. Most of the deaths were attributed to other factors such as drug use or heart problems, the report said, while others were inconclusive.
The report also used a 2002 study conducted by the stun gun's manufacturer, Taser International, to bolster its argument against them.
That analysis looked at 2,050 incidents in which officers used their Tasers.
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