The he said, she said that often takes place between an officer and a suspect can be difficult to sort through. This is why courts look for evidence to guide their decisions rather than relying solely on the sworn testimony of the parties involved.
For this reason it’s difficult to say whether Officer Robert Biel was justified in using his Taser to make a traffic arrest earlier this month. Physically, Biel is considerably smaller than the 240-pound Clarence Davis and had Davis become unruly, it’s reasonable that Biel would need to find an advantage. The advantage he chose was the use of a Taser electric stun gun.
But these are troubled times for the police department and frankly it has become difficult to take officers at their word.
We’re inclined to agree with the deputy police chief in Oak Park who said the jury is still out on the safety of Tasers. These supposedly non-lethal devices do kill people. For the safety of our residents and the decency of our police force, we hope that Tasers are handled with the same respect as firearms.
According to the department’s own statistics, 26 people have been momentarily incapacitated with an electric shock in the last 12 months. One of these people was a 43-year-old woman arrested for shoplifting at Wal-Mart on Oct. 6. According to the officer’s report, the woman refused to stand up so that she could be handcuffed.
The officer made no mention of calling for assistance and leapt from issuing the request to using a Taser to pin the woman to the floor.
In June of this year the sergeant in charge of training Forest Park officers on the use of Tasers stunned a 19-year-old who was walking away from him. The suspect was accused of panhandling and though he ignored the officer’s request to stop walking, there was nothing in the report indicating a confrontation.
In September of 2005 officers stunned a suspect twice after handcuffing him; once when he resisted being placed in the cruiser and again when he resisted being placed in a cell.
We dredge up these past arrests in light of news reports across the country that demonstrate the unpredictable results that Tasers have. A Nov. 6 report out of Utah tells of a 28-year-old officer Tasered as part of a training exercise who is now out on medical leave. On Oct. 29 police in Jerseyville, Mo., killed a 17-year-old by stunning him twice after he was in handcuffs.
There’s no doubt that police officers have a dangerous job and deserve whatever protections can be afforded, but such measures should not place the public at a greater risk.