Should tasers be unconstitutional?

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dear Editor,

I saw something interesting in the paper, and also on the T.V. program called “Cops.” On Feb. 3, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court over a 2004 taser incident in northwest Florida. The ACLU is asking the court to make a ruling on whether law enforcement officers’ use of excessive force with a taser is unconstitutional.

The case occurred in Washington County. According to court documents submitted by the ACLU, on “March 17, 2004, citizen Jesse Buckley was arrested after refusing to sign a traffic citation during a routine traffic stop.

“He was handcuffed and voluntarily excited his vehicle, obviously in emotional distress, then fell to the ground. Mr. Buckley was tased three separate times. Each episode lasted five seconds, leaving 16 burn marks on his skin, some severe enough to produce scars. Although Mr. Buckley never once actively resisted arrest, nor attempted to flee, the officer continued to tase him solely to cause pain.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit alleges the deputy’s actions violate the Fourth Amendment, since his only purpose was to inflict pain upon an already-handcuffed arrestee to make him stand up. Maria Kayman, ACLU of Florida associate legal director, made the following statement on the 11th circuit court’s decision.

“The Eleventh Circuit Court is ruling licensed police officers to use tasers as cattle prods to inflict gratuitous pain on a non-violent handcuffed arrestee, simply to herd him toward a police car. The repeated and excruciatingly painful application of 50,000 volts of electricity was once the exclusive province of the agents and implication of torture and cannot be condoned in a civilized society.”

The safety of tasers has repeatedly been called into question in the past 10 years. The law firm of Sairentz, Kirk and Miles states, “Well over 100 taser lawsuits have been filed throughout the United States on behalf of individuals who were killed by a taser gun or suffered severe personal injury.”

In June 2008, a jury awarded $6.2 million in a California wrongful death lawsuit filed against the taser company, which is believed to be the first product liability verdict against the manufacturer of the weapon.

Sheriff Michael Adkinson of the Defuniak Springs Police Department says this seems to be what is at the crux of the Supreme Court case. What is considered resistance to a law enforcement officer and how far can tasers be used to get compliance from a citizen, should they passively resist? It’s up to the court now to decide, should they hear the case. The headline I found in the paper was “To tase or not to tase.”

Barbara Sue Dennis