Grand Jury Calls On Sheriff’s Department To Retrain Its Officers In Use Of Tasers

(July 12) Retraining San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies in the proper use of tasers is called for in the wake of the deaths of three people deputies employed the pain compliance devices against over the last five years, according to the county grand jury.
In particular, according to the grand jury, deputies need to alter their taser policy to avoid redundant use of the stun guns on subjects who do not outwardly display indications that they have been incapacitated.
One of the 2012-13 San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s three ad hoc committees took up the subject of the sheriff’s department’s taser-use policy in response to reports detailing the deaths associated with taser gun use within the county – the July 2008 death of an Apple Valley man who was shocked three times, the 2009 death of an inmate at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga after deputies used a taser on him twice and the May 2011 death of a Lake Arrowhead man died who was shocked at least 17 times by taser-wielding sheriff’s deputies after a traffic stop – along with a February 2012 Amnesty International report indicating at least 500 people have died nationwide since 2001 after being electrically stunned.
While the district attorney’s office made a finding that all three of the referenced county taser-related deaths were legally justified and involved appropriate use of the devices, the grand jury expressed concern that officers are often incapable of knowing if the tasers are effective in those cases where the subject or suspect has no outward signs of incapacitation, resulting in over application of electrical shock.
Moreover, according to the grand jury, the sheriff’s department’s policy as laid out in its taser training manual does not call for on-scene tracking of their use by deputies. This can result, the grand jury found, in deputies who arrive at an arrest or custody situation that is already in progress using their tasers without knowing if their colleagues have already employed tasers on the subject in question.
The Sheriff’s Department’s taser training manual does not specify a limit on the number of times a taser can be safely discharged against a single suspect, leaving that for an on-scene determination by the involved deputies.
The Justice Department has issued an advisal with regard to employing tasers indiscriminately or redundantly, urging agencies to incorporate policies and training guidelines that include consideration of the age, body mass, gender. and physical condition of those upon whom tasers are to be used.
The grand jury also delivered an understated warning that recklessly allowing tasers to be employed could prove extremely costly for the county’s taxpayers.
“Two Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals cases illustrate law enforcement officers are not immune from liability when they subject a suspect to multiple taser exposures,” the report states. “In Bryan v. MacPherson, the court ruled a taser had been used in a way which constituted excessive force and was, therefore, a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In the case of Mattos v. Agarano, the Court held in two situations involving taser use officers had used excessive force causing the death of the individual. There are more cases throughout the United States wherein the courts have decided against law enforcement agencies when multiple and repeated tasering has occurred.”
The grand jury recommended that the sheriff’s office “implement enhanced officer training to situations where the target does not exhibit neuromuscular incapacitation symptoms or compliance, amend the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Taser Training Academy Manual to require greater communication among on-scene officers regarding the number of discharges of the taser against the target to avoid multiple, repeated or continuous exposures; increase hands-on training with tasers, focusing on the issue of identifying when a taser discharge is effective; formulate training to address the problem of knowing whether the taser is operating properly to avoid continuous, repeated and prolonged use of the taser; [and] when multiple deputies are using tasers, the highest ranking deputy at the scene be required to keep track of the cumulative number of taser exposures.”

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