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Video shows details of Taser incident at LAX

Criticism intensifies over the arrest that involved an airport police sergeant shocking a 78-year-old man after he resisted being handcuffed.

By Ian Gregor
Daily Breeze

January 27, 2005 - A videotape released Thursday appears to show that an elderly man was resisting attempts to handcuff him but not fighting with officers right before a Los Angeles International Airport police sergeant shocked him with a 50,000-volt Taser last month.

Other than attempting to handcuff the 78-year-old man, the three officers who were present in the LAX police station lobby do not appear to have tried less aggressive means of restraining him before turning to the Taser.

The incident intensified criticism of the LAX Police Department, which is already under fire for unprofessional actions by some officers.

However, two civilian witnesses signed statements in which they reported that the officers involved in the Taser incident acted professionally while the man was acting "crazy" and screaming profanity, people familiar with the case have said. The sergeant shocked him only after he ignored their repeated efforts to calm him down, the witnesses said.

Moreover, determining appropriate use of force is not always a clear-cut matter; under standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court, it must be "objectively reasonable," said Capt. Greg Meyer of the Los Angeles Police Academy.

"The fact that it becomes an emotional issue because of the age (of the person who is shocked) doesn't mean it's the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do for the circumstance," said Meyer, who has testified in court as a use-of-force expert. "Every circumstance has to be judged on its own merits in the face of agency policy and training."

Airport officials have steadfastly defended the officers involved in the Dec. 4 altercation, saying they acted only after the elderly man ignored their instructions and resisted their attempts to subdue him. The man possessed uncommon strength for his age, they said, and the sergeant warned him he would be shocked before applying the Taser.

"From everything we know about this incident, we don't think there was anything done that was not per protocol," said Kim Day, the airport's executive director. "We have a lot of confidence in our police."

The 363-officer LAX Police Department has been criticized for recent episodes in which an officer caused a traffic accident that seriously injured a bystander and others were caught on tape shirking their duties. The City Council this week overwhelmingly approved a measure for the May 17 municipal ballot that would ask voters to make it easier for the LAPD to take over the airport police force.

Taser use has become a controversial subject nationwide, and departments throughout the country are reviewing how the weapon should be used.

Some cardiologists fear that the powerful jolt can lead to death by interrupting heart rhythms. The American Civil Liberties Union wants police agencies to authorize their use only when someone's life is imminently threatened, claiming that Tasers have killed 71 people since 1999.

The security camera videotape, which LAX released in response to media requests, captured what happened when Lancaster resident William Lamb came to the 96th Street station to retrieve an impounded car. Airport officials say he grew angry when police refused to release it to him because his registration was expired.

At the start of the tape, Lamb appears animated, at one point kicking a wall with the toe of his sneaker. For several minutes he cannot be seen as he speaks with three officers.

Then, for reasons that aren't revealed by the videotape, one of the officers tries to handcuff Lamb, who steps back into camera range with his hands behind him.

Suddenly, he spins to his right so that he's facing the officer. At this point, the sergeant rushes over, grabs Lamb, and applies the Taser to him. He appears to speak with Lamb for a few seconds before shocking him.

As Lamb collapses, the officers grab him and lower him slowly to the tile floor.

Lamb was transported to a hospital for examination and then released to a relative. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Police pursued misdemeanor criminal charges against Lamb for disturbing the peace and resisting an officer, but the City Attorney's Office declined to prosecute, said LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

Internal LAX police investigations concluded that the officers acted properly, said Capt. Gary Green, who led the probes. Pepper spray could not have been used in the confined lobby, and a baton or "extreme physical force" could have caused serious injuries, he said.

"It's a perfect example of the use of a Taser that solved a problem before somebody got hurt," Green said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, who has led the drive to merge the LAXPD with the LAPD, said the tape raises more questions than it answers. Lamb did not appear to be particularly threatening, and the two officers who didn't use the Taser did not appear to be particularly concerned by his conduct, Weiss said.

Had LAPD officers been involved, the episode would have undergone a more thorough review by the civilian police commission and inspector general, Weiss said.

"It shows the lack of oversight" of LAX police activities, Weiss said.

Airport officials countered that this kind of incident was not serious enough to merit review by the civilians that oversee the LAPD, but Weiss dismissed their claim as "speculation."

Different police agencies have different use-of-force policies.

In Hawthorne, police generally use Tasers only when they have exhausted other measures, including holding onto the suspect, pain compliance techniques and pepper spray, Lt. Wayne Salmon said.

"Almost finally is the use of Tasers, pepper balls," he said.

In Inglewood, a Taser is generally used when an officer determines it's the best weapon to avoid injuries to a combative person or to himself, said Lt. Mike McBride, a department spokesman.

"I certainly can't dictate an answer for every agency," said Meyer, the LAPD captain. "It's a fairly complex subject."

Taser Prevails in Wrongful Death Suit

LOS ANGELES, July 19 /PRNewswire/ -- After two years of contentious litigation, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Taser International, Inc., brought by the City of Madera. The City of Madera alleged that one of its police officers shot and killed a man after mistaking her Glock service weapon for her Taser M26 stun device.

In 2002, after responding to a disturbance of the peace call involving several youth, City of Madera police officer Marcy Noriega shot and killed 24 year old Everardo Torres, an up and coming Golden Gloves boxer, who was handcuffed in the back of a squad car. Noriega claimed that she mistook her Glock for her Taser M26. Torres' family -- represented by the famed and recently deceased attorney Johnnie Cochran and his firm -- sued the City and Officer Noriega.

The City and Noriega sued Taser, claiming the Taser M26 was defectively designed due to it's similarity to a real firearm, and that Taser failed to warn about the possibility of confusing it with a firearm. In a rare 50-page dismissal order, a federal judge dismissed the case Tuesday, saying the resemblance was obvious.

"Assuming that Plaintiffs' allegations that the M26 is defectively similar to a handgun in functionality, design, and muscle memory, then the possibility of weapons confusion is obvious, especially when the M26 is worn close to a firearm," U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii wrote in the order. "Under these circumstances, there is no duty to warn."

Ishii dismissed all the claims, including negligence, design defect, and indemnity, that the City brought against Taser.

Attorneys Daniel A. Berman and Aneta B. Dubow of the firm Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP represented Taser International, Inc.

New Tasers fail to silence critics


March 18, 2005 - City cops are moving to a new Taser but opponents fear that will lead to more cases of excessive force. Downtown police are already equipped with the sleeker, lighter X26 Taser, while other officers still carry the older, bulkier M26.

"It strikes me that the evidence is pretty strong that it causes police to act in a much more aggressive manner and that tends to cause problems, particularly when the taser fails," said Alberta Civil Liberties Union president Stephen Jenuth.

"Using force by police should be a last resort. A Taser makes it easy to make that decision to use force and unfortunately it results in an excessive use of force."

In a letter to city lawyer Tom Engel, interim police Chief Darryl da Costa said 41 downtown officers are now equipped with the new Taser. The move to bring other cops on board has been delayed by a study being conducted by the Canadian Police Research Centre.

"We're waiting for the results of this study to come in that every major police service in the country is also waiting on or is part of," said EPS spokesman Chris McLeod. "When there's a policy for all of Canada that has consistent use, consistent training, then we'll look at moving and purchasing additional X26s."

But Engel said the use of Tasers has been criticized by Amnesty International and an Edmonton judge recently criticized a city constable for Tasering a youth at least five times. The judge said it amounted to cruel and unusual treatment.

McLeod said Tasers have been invaluable in preventing more serious uses of force.

"There's been a number of cases where the Taser has proven useful in preventing more serious force being deployed," he said. "It's been a good alternative. It's a non-lethal alternative."

Electric shock weapons could go wireless

By David Hambling

New Scientist - 21 May 2003 - A weapon that delivers a debilitating electric shock to its victim without the need for wires is being developed in Germany.

New Scientist has seen video stills of a prototype of the "Plasma-Taser" in action during firing-range tests. The pictures were shown at the European Symposium on Non-Lethal Weapons in Karlsruhe, Germany, two weeks ago.

In the first image, a spray of dark gas is seen approaching a human-sized target. In the next, taken a fraction of a second later, there is a lightning-like flash of electrical discharge intended to incapacitate the targeted person.

The Plasma-Taser, developed by defence company Rheinmetall W&M in Ratingen, is similar to the Taser weapon used by US police forces. In an ordinary Taser, a pair of darts are fired at a target from a distance of about seven metres, and a high-voltage electrical pulse is delivered through lightweight metal cables to the darts. The 50,000-volt electric shock stuns the intruder by temporarily shutting down their nervous system.
"Pain and spasms"

The Plasma-Taser will not need any wires because it fires an aerosol spray towards the target, which creates a conductive channel for a shock current, claims Rheinmetall. The company refused to comment on exactly how the weapon works, but it says the aerosol material is non-toxic.

Like Taser manufacturers, Rheinmetall describes the effects of its weapon as "pain and spasms". The advantage? A Taser is a single-shot weapon of limited range: the Plasma-Taser can fire repeated shots over greater range.

"It certainly looks shocking and intimidating," says Brian Rappert of the University of Nottingham, UK. "But there is a big difference between a lab demonstration and a working weapon. The history of non-lethals is littered with novel, widely praised but ill-conceived ideas."

Steve Wright of the Manchester-based Omega Foundation, which monitors non-lethal weapon technology, is concerned about the potential misuse of electric shock weapons. "Such new technologies enable systematic human rights abuses to be more automated, so that one operator can induce pain and paralysis on a mass scale," he says.

Woman claims excessive force in Taser use

Roger Harvey/Eyewitness News

Hamilton County, May 31 - Police car video of a traffic stop late one night in November of 2003 shows two officers questioning a suspected drunk driver at a gas station at 116th Street and Brooks School Road.

Minutes later, Hamilton County Sheriff Deputy Greg Lockhart made a declaration as the woman reached into her car for her cell phone. "It's Taser time."

"It felt like he was trying to pull my arm out of the socket. It was an incredible pain, an incredible pain."

Jennifer Marshall, five-foot five and 105 pounds, says she couldn't believe an officer who outweighs her by nearly three times, along with a second deputy, used a Taser. "It was almost like it was a malicious, vindictive movement like, drop to the ground but I am just going to keep pushing this button and I know you can't fall. It was just very horrible."

According to police records obtained by Eyewitness News, before the Taser incident, officers say Marshall's eyes were bloodshot and she failed a series of field sobriety tests as well as registered .09 on a portable breathalyzer, which is above the legal limit.

When asked if she had been drinking that night, Marshall replies, "The alcohol I had consumed was from cough medicine and that was several hours prior to this happening."

Authorities charged Marshall with seven offenses; including felony intimidation, battery, resisting law enforcement and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Marshall says during the stop she got agitated with the officers and cursed at them, but she says nothing rose to the level of officers needing to use a Taser.

"There was no fighting and there was no force applied to that officer whatsoever." Marshall's attorney says what especially concerns him is that at least ten seconds passed between the officer announcing "Taser time" and when he used it. "If you are really faced with a genuine situation where there is an immediate threat to the officer or that person to themselves, you are going to react quickly."

Deputy Lockhart, in court records, states "he had to use the Taser on her left arm to get her to stop resisting." Lockhart also states, concerning the battery charge, Marshall "poked me in the chest three times."

Marshall and her attorney say they are considering suing Hamilton County for excessive force. A jury trial on the criminal charges against her begins next Wednesday.

Hamilton County's chief deputy prosecutor says she can't comment specifically about this case since it is so close to trial.


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