NAACP holds mock trial regarding Taser stun guns - Seán Kinane

05/24/06



On Tuesday night at the Stetson University College of Law campus in Tampa, the NAACP convened a mock trial to evaluate the use of stun guns. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports.

“Be it resolved, the NAACP urges the use of Taser guns be banned. That is the NAACP position.�

That was Pat Spencer of the Tampa Branch of the NAACP describing why this mock trial was called. The NAACP has called for an end to the use of Taser, a brand name of stun gun. Stun guns have been used on many people, including young children, the elderly, and on pregnant women and have resulted in at least 167 deaths. The ACLU is also concerned about the misuse of stun guns, but is not calling for a ban, as Rebecca Harrison Steele, the Director of the ACLU Florida West Central Region, clarifies.

“We see stun guns as something that aren’t inherently bad or good in and of themselves. But you need to look at the issues of how they’re used and that’s where we’re going to put our efforts. What we want to do is get agencies to adopt policies that say we will only use the levels of force that are reasonably necessary to control or otherwise subdue violent or potentially violent individuals.�

Dr. Lorie Fridell, a professor in the Department of Criminology at USF, spoke about both the positive aspects of stun guns and concerns about their use. Another participant, Bob Gruder, is the President and CEO of Stinger Systems, which produces a type of stun gun. He suggests that the large number of deaths associated with stun guns can be explained away by statistics and that stun guns are not any more deadly than other types of physical encounters with the police.

“About one out of 800 individuals that get arrested and there is some sort of physical contact, whether it’s with one of these things [stun gun], it’s handcuffs, a baton, OC spray, one out of about 800 will die, it’s just statistics. And the stun guns have fallen right in line with all of the other things that’s on the officer’s duty belt.�

Law enforcement agencies from throughout the Tampa Bay region were invited but only one participated. Sgt. Eric Diaz is in charge of the use-of-force program of the Tampa Police Department. Based on his experiences while training new officers, Diaz thinks that stun guns assist police in incapacitating violent suspects.

“What I’ll do is I’ll say ‘you take me down. Take me down.’ I find the larger majority of officers are unsuccessful in a violent resistance or a resistance to where I don’t want to comply. In came the stun gun. Now remember I’ve been hit by batons, I’ve been sprayed in the face with chemical agent; none of that. What ends up happening is I say ‘you go ahead … aaaargh.’ What happens is because it’s incapacitating neuromuscular, what it’s doing is taking away the ability to be aggressive toward the officer, and what I can say is I wasn’t able to do harm to any of these officers.�

But Attorney John Trevena says there has been an exponential increase in the use of Tasers and that almost half of his clients have been tased when they were arrested. Trevena says it may be due to what he calls a video game mentality among police.

“That’s a phrase I’ve heard even used in law enforcement, this video game mentality that we’re going to draw the weapon, weather it be a taser or some alarming increase in use of firearms by the police, rather than try any alternative. If you look at some of the policies of some of the agencies, it’s kind of scary. I looked at the Pinellas county sheriff’s use of the taser. It essentially says that: Before you put your hands on someone, use a taser. I think we need to reevaluate whether that’s really appropriate.�

One of Trevena’s clients, Charles Favek, told of his experience with excessive use of force by police using stun guns. A friend who was concerned that Favek might be depressed phoned the police who responded by staking out his apartment and then knocking at his door. Favek explains what happened next.

“And I opened it up. Next thing you know, I was knocked down. And after that he starts shootin on me and I got hit about six times with a taser.�

Trevena describes more of what happened to Favek.

“Three police officers approached the door. The first officer had a shield covering his entire body. As soon as the door opened, they charged in, forcing Mr. Favek back onto the ground, and knocking him down with the shield. There was no conversation; there was no identification. This was the initial contact Mr. Favek had with the police officers. Then a supervisor at the scene yelled ‘taser’ and three officers simultaneously discharged six probes into Mr. Favek’s chest. All three firing at once.�

Dr. William Anderson is a pathologist and a former medical examiner. He described the medical conditions that could occur to a victim of a stun gun.

[ACT Anderson]
[describes respiratory failure etc when tased]

A woman in attendance, Lisa Cannedy, told WMNF that her 16-year-old son had been shot in the back with a stun gun on Monday afternoon while attending graduation ceremonies in the USF SunDome.

[ACT Cannedy]
[Tells of tasering and abuse of her son by police at SunDome]

If you would like more information about the NAACP, phone 813-234-8683.

For WMNF News, I’m Sean Kinane

FMI

NAACP
813-234-8683

Arizona Republic’s study on stun gun deaths
http://www.azcentral.com/specials/taser/

ACLU of Florida
http://www.aclufl.org

NAACP - Hillsborough
http://www.hillsboroughnaacp.org/

Taser International
http://www.taser.com/

Stinger Systems
http://www.stingersystems.com/

Stetson University College of Law
http://www.law.stetson.edu/

Amnesty International’s report on stun gun deaths
http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engamr511392004

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