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Related Categories: Peninsula | Police State & Prisons
Stop the Taser Deaths!
by Tracy Rosenberg and JP Massar (contact [at] oaklandprivacy.org)
Sunday Feb 10th, 2019 9:47 AM
Following community pressure after the October 3 death of Chinedu Okobi a 36 year old Black man who was tasered by San Mateo County Sheriffs after being stopped for “walking erratically”, San Mateo’s Board of Supervisors is convening a community forum on tasers.
Following community pressure after the October 3 death of Chinedu Okobi a 36 year old Black man who was tasered by San Mateo County Sheriffs after being stopped for “walking erratically”, San Mateo’s Board of Supervisors is convening a community forum on tasers.

The event will be held on the evening of Feb 11th at 400 County Center in Redwood City and will be preceded by a 5pm rally outside the County headquarters. Oakland Privacy submitted comments to the Board, which can be read below:

-----------------------------------------------

Email: BoardFeedback@smc.gov

Dear President Groom and Honorable Supervisors,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on the County's use of tasers and for holding this forum to discuss the use of the weapon after the tragic death of Chinedu Okobi.

Oakland Privacy is a regional citizen’s coalition that works regionally to defend the right to privacy and enhance public transparency and oversight regarding the use of surveillance techniques and equipment.

While tasers in and of themselves are not surveillance equipment, we have long taken an interest in their use due to our engagement with law enforcement policy and attempts to develop protocols that protect civil rights and allow for meaningful community control by impacted populations on public safety procedures. As with much of the Bay Area, we have concerns regarding civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement and the high concentrations of such deaths in the Black and Brown communities of the Bay Area. Chinedu Okobi's death was yet another example of a fatality that should not have happened and should be prevented from happening again to someone else.

Generally, the use of tasers is presented as a less-lethal or non-lethal alternative to the use of gun weapons. This justification is flawed in two specific ways.

  • Firstly, the premise that tasers are generally or more often than not utilized instead of or as an alternative to firing shots from a gun has proven to be inaccurate. Instead tasers are generally utilized as a replacement for non-violent or de-escalating actions in situations when gunfire would be completely inappropriate and thus function as a force multiplier, increasing the use of force and potentially an outcome of injury or death from an encounter.
  • Secondly, the characterization of tasers as benign instruments has been proven incorrect given the number of incidents resulting in death after being tased, and the vulnerability of individuals with cardiac histories (which is virtually impossible to establish prior to the use of a taser) to death by what is called “excited delirium” following the use of a taser.
Because of these two discrepancies between arguments for the use of tasers and the actual outcomes following use, we are opponents of unregulated taser use and have grave concerns about the use of the equipment at all.  We believe that after reviewing some of the research material, that you will share those concerns. The most compelling argument for the use of tasers is as an alternative to the use of firearms. Who doesn't want to reduce the use of guns in our society, which is the most armed developed country in the world? If tasers were, in fact, used as a firearm replacement by law enforcement agencies, most of us would embrace their use as a concrete harm reduction. The wholesale introduction of tasers into law enforcement use was largely predicated on this argument and was broadly embraced with tasers in use in at least 15,000 law enforcement agencies across the country. [1]

Unfortunately,  studies have shown that having tasers available as an option does not reduce the use of firearms by officers or reduce casualties from use of force encounters between law enforcement and members of the community. A University of Chicago study released in January of 2018 that studied over 39,000 use of force incidents at the Chicago Police Department found no evidence that the adoption of tasers reduces the use of firearms by law enforcement agencies. [2] An earlier study by UCSF cardiologist Zian Tseng looked at sudden death rates at 50 California law enforcement agencies and found a large increase in sudden death incidents after the introduction of tasers and a slight increase, not a decrease, in the amount of officer-involved shootings, which the physician attributed to taser use escalating encounters that begin non-violently. [3]

The particulars of the Okobi fatal encounter are in line with the above research findings. Okobi was stopped by San Mateo sheriff county deputies while unarmed and walking down the street. It may be true that he was walking “erratically”, and it may also be true that he suffered from some degree of mental illness, but neither erratic walking nor illness are a capital crime requiring execution by gunfire. In other words, the use of tasers was not a substitute for the use of a firearm, but caused the  violent escalation of an incident that did not warrant the use of lethal force and yet ended up in an officer-caused death. So if the real world practice of taser use is preponderantly to introduce force into police-citizen encounters where firearm use would be prohibited or inappropriate, then use of tasers can be said to be an elevator of violent encounters and to potentially worsen violent encounters, rather than prevent or alleviate them.

The following material is written by Chinedu's sister, Ebele Okobi, after watching the video of her brother's death at the hands of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department. It is a story of a violent encounter that did not need to be violent and should never have resulted in not only death, but in the use of any force whatsoever.

                Ebele Okobi wrote that the videos showed that her brother had been calmly walking on the sidewalk, carrying bags, when a deputy drove up alongside him and asked what he was doing, telling Okobi he needed   to question him. Her brother then "walks to the intersection, looks out for traffic, and crosses the street," her Facebook post says. She said the deputy calls for backup and a second police car cuts off Okobi, who drops his bags and puts his hands in the air. "They grab him, rip off his jacket. He tries to run, asking, 'What's wrong? What did I do?'" Ebele Okobi wrote. She said her brother was then tased and fell to the ground while keeping his hands raised.

                "He is not fighting, just crying in pain. I will never forget the visual of his hands, waving above his head, open, begging. He begs them to take the Taser prongs off of him. He tries to pull them off himself," Ebele Okobi's post reads.

            "When there is a break in the torture, my brother staggers to his knees, tries to run away. A deputy pulls out his baton, strikes, they tase him again. My brother goes down. At some point, my brother tries to run across the street, they chase him, they tase him, they pepper spray him, they jump on top of him while he is prone,"  she writes.

                Eventually, the footage shows someone shouting "I see blood," she writes. "Then it's over." No CPR or other lifesaving measures are administered, she writes. [4]

In this whole saga, there is no originating incident or proximate cause for the use of force, much less lethal force. At best, there is an individual stopped and questioned for no discernible reason exhibiting uncooperative behavior. There is no reasonable suspicion of any crime being committed, no probable cause of any crime being committed, and no tangible reason for loss of life, barring perhaps fear of the police.

Axon spokesperson Steve Tuttle is quoted in 2018 as responding to the University of Chicago study in the following manner: “We did not provide Tasers to replace firearms and if you ask any expert in the field, they'll tell you that you don't bring a knife to a gun fight." [5]

It is similarly true that you do not bring a knife to a conversation and it is deeply questionable that an inquiry regarding perceived erratic walking should result in death by electrocution.

If the use of tasers within the Sheriff's department you oversee is to inflict physical injury on individuals stopped with no proximate cause who are frightened, then a moratorium on taser use is in order until clearer and more humane policies are developed, implemented and enforced.

The characterization of tasers as non-lethal instruments has also failed to stand up to the test of real-life use.  Both the Washington Post and Amnesty International have documented loss of life by Taser at least once a week for over a decade, totaling more than 1000 deaths in the past 10 years. In the 2017 documentary film on tasers Killing them Safely, cardiac electrophysiologist Douglas Zipes argues that the electrical pulses from tasers can interfere with normal heart rates and kill within 4-6 minutes. [6]  This is especially the case when certain factors are also present including cardiac vulnerability, use of drugs, elevated heartbeat due to adrenalin and fear, or pregnancy. And officers do not know the medical history of an individual prior to tasering them, which creates a situation where a decision to use “less-lethal” force may turn out to be nothing of the kind due to ignorance of other factors present. When presented with these statistics during the making of Killing Them Safely, Axon CEO Rick Smith told documentary producers: “In every single case these people would have died anyway.”[7]

We join with Chinedu Okobi's friends and family and progressive groups throughout the Peninsula to demand:

  • An independent investigation into Chinedu Okobi's death
  • A moratorium on the use of tasers by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office until that independent investigation is completed and use of force policies regarding taser use can be clarified in order to prevent future incidents of death-by-taser of unarmed San Mateo County residents.

[1]   https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/u-s-department-of-justice-police-use-of-force-tasers-and-other-less-lethal-weapons/

[2]    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/18/theres-no-evidence-tasers-reduce-police-use-of-firearms-new-study-shows.html

[3]    https://qz.com/559889/tasers-may-not-kill-like-real-guns-but-theyre-not-a-cure-for-police-brutality/

[4]    https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/19/us/chinedu-okobi-police-taser-video/index.html

[5]    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/18/theres-no-evidence-tasers-reduce-police-use-of-firearms-new-study-shows.html

[6]    https://qz.com/559889/tasers-may-not-kill-like-real-guns-but-theyre-not-a-cure-for-police-brutality/

[7]    Ibid.

--------------------------------------------

Here are a few examples of deaths and serious injury resulting from taser use, compiled by members of Oakland Privacy.  These are only the tip of an iceberg than can easily be expanded into hundreds if not thousands of similar incidents using simple Google search.

Israel Hernandez

Two years ago after a teenage graffiti artist named Israel Hernandez Jr. lost a foot race with Miami Beach police, an officer stunned him with a Taser and then he died of heart failure. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner determined the cause of death was heart failure from the "energy device discharge."

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article36462477.html

Lesa Surrat

In August, 2013, a Sherman, Texas police officer told other officers to "Tase the bitch" during a traffic stop, and officers then beat her to death after stopping her for an illegal lane change. Surratt lay on the ground for 20 minutes or more convulsing in seizures before any of defendants called for an EMT. She was in obvious need of medical treatment from the time she was removed from the patrol car. She was allowed by the officers to continue to deteriorate to the point of being brain dead.

http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/05/28/68235.htm

Quincy Smith

In December, 2008, Minneapolis police officers said that Quincy Smith continued to resist arrest so they "used a taser on Smith multiple times, punched him in the head, kneed him in the rib area, and struck him in the back with the butt of a shotgun," Two officers tased Smith eight times for forty seconds or more.' Quincy Smith died on the way to the hospital.

The medical examiner's report, as quoted in an Appellate Court ruling, says Smith "had a cardio respiratory arrest."

http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/06/12/68682.htm

Carlos Ocana

Carlos, a transient whose friends said he had mental health problems, climbed up a billboard atop the roof of a one-story on May 24, 2014. When an LAPD SWAT team was unable to get him to come down, officers shot him with a Taser. He fell to his death.

One man told the LA Times that the police didn't allow Ocana's friends to talk him down from the billboard.

In comments to one of the stories about this tragedy, readers wrote:

"I've seen a homeless man tazed IN THE EYE for lingering too long on one of Orlando's touristy downtown main streets."

"we watched as police officers took a homeless, drunk, handcuffed person to the edge of the curb before tasing him so that he would fall face-first into asphalt."

"I have an artificial heart valve, a pacemaker, and a metal rod fused to my spine. It would be better if they just shot me."

http://laist.com/2014/07/03/homeless_man_falls_to_his_death.php http://www.dailykos.com/comments/1311694/53853769#c13

An unnamed 8 year old girl

Dawn Stenstrom is the mother of an eight year old girl who was tased by Pierre, South Dakota police on October 4th, 2013.

Police warned the 8-year-old they were going to tase her, but "within seconds," an officer fired darts from the electroshock weapon into the chest of the 70-pound girl, "The force of the electricity shot through her body, lifted her, and threw her against a wall. After the officers had stunned her into high voltage submission, they pulled the fish-hook like Taser darts from her chest, gave her emergency medical attention, bandaged the holes left by the razor-sharp hooks, and called the ambulance."

The father of the young girl said

"I don't think 8-year-olds should be Tased anywhere in the world,"

The girl is currently receiving mental and emotional counseling from a child counselor, as a result of the trauma she experienced at the hands of police.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/09/us/south-dakota-taser-lawsuit/index.html?hpt=hp_t2 http://countercurrentnews.com/2014/12/native-american-police-over-reacting/#

Dante Parker

Dante Parker, 36, was riding a bike in order to improve his health, but because he matched the description of an attempted burglar he wound up being stunned with a Taser gun at least 25 times, placed face-down and denied medical care on August 12th, in Victorville, CA.

The Victorville Daily Press pressman, a father of five, was stunned with a Taser between 25 and 27 times by San Beradino County deputies, "hog tied," then left on the ground face-down, despite having no weapons or tools that could have been used as weapons.

Parker was taken to Victor Valley Global Medical Center, where he was found to be wholly unresponsive and in cardiac arrest. Parker died two days before his 37th birthday.

http://www.sbsun.com/general-news/20150129/dante-parkers-family-files-lawsuit-over-victorville-mans-in-custody-death http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Man-Dies-in-Deputies-Custody-After-Being-Hit-With-Taser-271144901.html `

An Anonymous Man

A South Dakota police officer tasered an unresponsive man who was already handcuffed, an incident that bystanders caught on video in Manderson, on August 14th, 2014.

Commenting on the video, one reporter wrote:

"Officer Sotherland obviously wasn't using the stun gun as a means of defense, as the man is laying helplessly on the ground handcuffed, rather she is using it as a means of sadistic punishment in an attempt to motivate him to get into her police cruiser as she is seemingly too lazy to simply put the suspect into the cruiser herself."

A witness noted: "The kids even said, 'that's the 17th time she tazed him." It's so sad they were watching & had to count each time. I saw it too. It was sickening."

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/08/27/south-dakota-cop-indicted-after-being-caught-on-video-repeatedly-tasering-helpless-man/ http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/08/28/female-tribal-officer-caught-tazing-native-man-17-times-indicted-156636

Cesar Vazquez

 http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/do-cops-just-tase-people-fun-now

A lawsuit filed on Monday, August 25th, 2014 over Taser abuse, in San Bernardino County in southeast California, concerned eight deputy sheriffs who routinely tortured prisoners at a jail with Tasers, even sharing videos of the assaults for entertainment.

Cesar Vazquez was given a job within the West Valley Detention Center as a chow server. Soon after starting this job, Vazquez was told by Deputies Sheriff Department Escamilla and Kopasz that these two deputies used a Taser on all chow servers as part of an 'initiation' process.

Escamilla and Kopasz tased Vazquez once a week or more. Another deputy sheriff, Andrew Cruz, tased Plaintiff between 20 and 30 times while housed at the facility, between March and December 2013.

Viola Young

Tallahassee Police said that officers were responding to reports of drug dealing on September 30th, 2014. Viola Young, 62, approached Officer Mahan to ask about one of the men who was being detained. Mahan advises her to stay back, and tries to grab her arm. Video recording shows that after she turns and walks away, the officer pulls out his Taser and fires it into her back. Mrs. Young fell face down onto the pavement. She was then taken into custody on charges of resisting an officer without violence.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/watch-florida-officer-tasers-62-year-old-black-woman-in-the-back-as-she-walks-away/

Anonymous Elderly Woman

On November 7th, 2014 in Los Angeles video recorded large numbers of Los Angeles Police surrounding an elderly, probably mentally disturbed, homeless elderly woman, possibly handicapped, possibly holding a stick. She is tazed by one of the officers and falls to the ground.

One witness stated "They just beat up, tasered, an old lady in the street, for no reason. They didn't even have a reason to make contact with her in the first place, let alone tase her."  The videographer then said "The police are clearly out of control."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gxtkmEBGP8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHz52CXUqPk&feature=youtu.be%20Back%20to%20top

Natasha McKenna

Natasha McKenna died after a stun gun was used on her at the Fairfax, Virginia County jail in February, 2015. Within minutes of being shocked by the Taser, McKenna stopped breathing. jail deputies were unable to revive her using CPR.

McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax County to seek help for her, tried to fight her way out of cuffs initially and repeatedly screaming, "You promised you wouldn't hurt me!"

Six members of the Sheriff's Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, then arrived and placed the wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn't bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser.

Four law enforcement experts interviewed by The Post questioned why a Taser was used on a restrained woman.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/fairfax-jail-inmate-who-died-was-fully-restrained-when-tasered-four-times/2015/04/11/ede0957c-decd-11e4-be40-566e2653afe5_story.html?postshare=871428890221408

Ruther and Lisa Hayes

On June 30th, 2014, Ruther Hayes, a disabled veteran, was severely beaten and tased by Rehoboth Beach, Delaware police officers during the raid as he attempted to give his wife Lisa a sponge bath. Lisa Hayes is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who was receiving a sponge bath on the bed when multiple officers forced their way into the couple's bedroom.

When he saw the officers enter the room, Ruther Hayes attempted to cover his naked wife with a sheet. Instead of allowing the man to cover his naked quadriplegic wife, police threw him to the ground, tasered him, and punched him repeatedly. As officers beat the disabled veteran bloody, they screamed at Lisa Hayes to get up, despite having  been told by every family member in the home that she was unable to walk.

Mrs. Hayes was forced to listen and watch as they beat and tasered her husband. She was scared that they were going to kill him.

This all occurred after the two men the officers were looking for had been placed in handcuffs and detained.

http://thefreethoughtproject.com/police-taser-beat-innocent-disabled-vet-terrorize-quadriplegic-wife-fruitless-raid/

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