DOJ says APD frequently misuses tasers

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The DOJ report also tears into APD’s “unreasonable” use of less lethal force, namely tasers.

The DOJ said over the last five years officers frequently misused tasers where force wasn’t needed or where they put people in danger.

The feds cited specific cases including a 2009 call out where a person had doused himself in gasoline and officers repeatedly tased him, setting him on fire.

Other cases involved tasing the elderly and tasing a man with the mind of a 5-year-old.

“We found that officers routinely fired their tasers which discharged 50,000 watts of electricity against people who were passively resisting and non-threatening or who were unable to comply with orders due to their mental state,” said Jocelyn Samuels with the Department of Justice.

The DOJ writes APD has provided sufficient training on the use of tasers.

DOJ Investigation Pages 15-18

Although we found unreasonable uses of physical force, such as punches and kicks, the overwhelming majority of our use of force reviews involved inappropriate deployment of Tasers. Residents have complained, and we were able to confirm, that APD officers used Tasers in a manner that was disproportionate to the threat encountered and in situations where lesser force options were more appropriate.

We also identified instances where officers fired Tasers numerous times, even when multiple officers were present to help resolve the situation without the need for continued uses of force. The over-reliance on Tasers in situations where more effective and less extreme options, including verbal de-escalation techniques, were far more appropriate, contributes to the pattern or practice of excessive force.

A Taser is “a weapon that sends up to 50,000 volts of electricity through a person’s body, causing temporary paralysis and excruciating pain.” Any use of Tasers constitutes a severe intrusion of the interests protected under the Fourth Amendment.

Albuquerque police used unreasonable force when they deployed a barrage of less lethal weapons at “Albert,” 7 a 60-year-old man who was intoxicated and began arguing with his friend in March 2009.28 The friend called police twice, the second time reporting that Albert had threatened him with a knife and a pellet gun. Forty-seven officers responded to the scene, including snipers and officers from specialized tactical units. After some delay, Albert complied with officers’ orders to drop a knife that he was holding while standing at the doorway and walked outside unarmed. After additional delay, he stopped and began to turn. At that point, an officer was ordered to “bag him.” An officer fired five successive rounds of beanbags at Albert with a shotgun. Another officer deployed a flash-bang grenade. Another officer shot him with a canister of four wooden batons, two of which penetrated his skin. Another officer deployed a police canine that bit Albert in the arm, tearing his flesh as the canine tried to pull him down.

Albuquerque police used unreasonable force when they deployed a barrage of less lethal weapons at “Albert,” 7 a 60-year-old man who was intoxicated and began arguing with his friend in March 2009.28 The friend called police twice, the second time reporting that Albert had threatened him with a knife and a pellet gun. Forty-seven officers responded to the scene, including snipers and officers from specialized tactical units. After some delay, Albert complied with officers’ orders to drop a knife that he was holding while standing at the doorway and walked outside unarmed. After additional delay, he stopped and began to turn. At that point, an officer was ordered to “bag him.” An officer fired five successive rounds of beanbags at Albert with a shotgun. Another officer deployed a flash-bang grenade. Another officer shot him with a canister of four wooden batons, two of which penetrated his skin. Another officer deployed a police canine that bit Albert in the arm, tearing his flesh as the canine tried to pull him down.

Our investigation uncovered other incidents in which APD officers used force disproportionate to the threat or resistance encountered. An officer’s Taser use on “Ben,” a 75-year old man who used a cane to walk, illustrates this problem. The incident happened in September 2012 after officers responded to a bus station because Ben refused to leave. When officers arrived, they offered to take Ben to a homeless shelter and also called a Crisis Intervention Team officer to assist. Ben sat on a bench and told officers that he was not going to leave peacefully and that he was angry with the bus company for refusing to let him board. After officers tried to convince him to leave for about an hour, Ben threatened bus company employees and reached for his cane. Officers ordered him to put his cane down, but he refused. As Ben was trying to stand up using his cane (presumably for support), the CIT -trained officer shot Ben in the abdomen with his Taser. He did so even though the threat from Ben was minimal: Ben had trouble walking on his own, a sergeant and three officers were standing around him, and there were no indications that bystanders were near Ben. The sergeant on the scene found the Taser use reasonable, as did other supervisors. One supervisor praised the officers’ conduct as “exceptional.” A higher-level commander called for an investigation of the incident, however there is no indication that one was completed.

The DOJ report goes on to address four other instances where excessive force with a Taser was used.

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