Thursday, June 11, 2009

US Soldiers Disciplined for Taser Abuse - In 2004. Today? Anything Goes.

An article from 2004 in the BBC News tells of four US soldiers charged and punished for the use of excessive force for using Taser stun guns on prisoners. Based on memorandum received under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) discovered that detainees often arrived at prisons - including Abu Ghraib - with "burn marks" on their backs. The memos detail concerns expressed by FBI and US Defense Intelligence Agency workers which they were reportedly told to keep quiet about. The ACLU states that these memos were written two months after release of the Abu Ghraib photos.

The ACLU goes on to say that a senior FBI official expressed concern in 2002 about "highly aggressive" interrogations at Guantanamo and government sanctioned abuse. Executive Director Anthony Romero of the ACLU said that, "These documents tell a damning story of sanctioned government abuse - a story the government has tried to hide and may well come back to haunt our own troops captured in Iraq."

The Pentagon reports that there have already been dozens of reviews and hearings already and seven military police and intelligence officers have been charged in this [Taser] case and one reservist is currently [2004] in jail.


On May 11, 2009, Kathryn Winkfein, age 72, was Tasered by Deputy Chris Bieze after a traffic stop. Ms. Winkfein was pulled over for driving 60 mph in a 45 mph zone. She refused to sign the ticket and was ordered out of her vehicle by the Deputy. (By the way, it is legal to refuse to sign a ticket). According to Officer Bieze, Ms. Winkfein was combative and argumentative. Although the reports are somewhat conflicting, it is apparent that at one point, while walking along the road towards Deputy Bieze's patrol car, Ms. Winkfein wandered too close to the traffic lane and Deputy Beize shoved her away from the line. She then said,

“You’re gonna shove a 72-year-old woman?” Winkfein yells at him.

“If you don’t step back, you’re gonna be Tased,” Bieze says.

That’s when Winkfein said, “Go ahead. Tase me.”

Although he had the Taser out and ready, Bieze did not use it.

“Step back or you’re gonna be Tased, ma’am,” Bieze says again.

“I dare you,” she said.

Winkfein then decided she was leaving and tried to walk back to her truck.

“I’m getting back in my car,” she said.

“You’re gonna be Tased,” Bieze said, blocking her path.

“I’m getting back in my car,” she insists.

“No, ma’am,” he says.

Deputy Bieze then Tasered Ms.Winfein with 50,000 volts. Constable Sgt. Maj. Gary Griffin of the Constable's Office defended Mr. Bieze's actions and said Ms. Winkfein was belligerent and difficult to handle.

In Pittsburgh on June 4, 2009, a high school student was tasered in the hallway of his school by a police officer because, "The kid was violating two rules — he should have been in class and he shouldn't have been talking on a cell phone" said the officer. The student will likely face several criminal charges including felony assault on a police officer. The boy was handcuffed once on the ground because he resisted, although the student claims that he was dizzy and confused after being tasered.

Then, there is the case in El Reno where despite the fact that the man was not resisting arrest but simply not compliant, he was tasered.

Even though he was wearing a Medic Alert tag identifying himself as a diabetic, and displaying all the symptoms of diabetic shock, the officers believed him to be under the influence and dragged him out of his truck and tasered him. Their justification? He failed to communicate with them. Did it occur to them that they might have a medical emergency? No, of course not. Tase first, ask questions later. This individual's blood sugar level at the time was 11. (Normal is between 75 and 150. The average is 100 and a diabetic should never get down below 80 or 85).


Recent polls have suggested that just over 50% of Americans believe that (in regards to terrorists), there may be occasions when torture is necessary. Many Americans don't believe that waterboarding, for example, is torture. We court martialed American soldiers in Vietnam for waterboarding. We jailed a deputy sheriff in Texas a few years ago for waterboarding a suspect. We executed a Japanese war criminal for waterboarding after WWII.

In 2004, at the height of the Iraq war, when the Bush Administration was using "enhanced interrogation" techniques (read waterboarding and other torture techniques) on detainees - none of whom were actually charged with anything - inappropriate use of a Taser by US soldiers was cause for discipline.

In 2009, use of Tasers by our police forces is routine. Police officers pulling school duty, there to keep our kids safe and prevent another Columbine, are enforcing cell phone rules? Instead of receiving training on conflict resolution and how to deal with difficult people, they what, just hand out Tasers to rookies? Since when is it appropriate to Taser someone because they don't want to be arrested? Or sign a ticket? Since when is it illegal to argue with the police? If someone is already on the ground, they're down! They don't need to be tasered, too. Since when is shoving anyone, much less 72-year old women okay? Why was she arrested? What was the charge? Belligerence? WTF? I'd like to see that law on the books. It is illegal to have attitude? Right.

I'm delighted that law enforcement reaches for Tasers more frequently than their guns, but using Tasers is lazy and it's dangerous. They don't know who has a medical condition exacerbated by an electrical charge. They don't learn how to negotiate and think, to use critical thinking skills. If they're not bright enough to talk someone down, they shouldn't be out on the street with a gun.

We had a situation here in my town several years ago in which the officer reached for her Taser, and grabbed her gun. She didn't realize it until she killed the individual she wanted to subdue - after a routine traffic stop in which the victim didn't cooperate fast enough or in the way that she wanted. Tasers are tools just as are guns. With the mindset that Tasers are harmless and that police have the right to instant obedience and cooperation without explanation, we will continue to have more and more stories of tragedies with Taser in the headline.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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