Over at Confutatis Maledictis Tom points out a page with video of an officer tasing a woman he is arresting at a traffic stop. The woman is refusing to put her cell phone down and get out of the car so she can be arrested for driving on a suspended license. Tom thinks it's an acceptable use of the taser.
At the blog where Tom found the video, The Special Constable, a British officer opines that it was more violence than needed. His is the quote which headlines this post. He goes further to comment: "If there is going to be misuse, this is where it will be prevalent."
I spent some time watching the videos and listening to the commentary from a training officer who was interviewed about this incident. Here's basically what happened:
The officer tells belligerent lady to put the phone down and get out of the car. She refuses, the training officer describes this as passive resistance (I think correctly) but she takes no act against the officer. At this point I think the officer is within bounds when he escalates to get her out of the car. He places a hand on her and she pulls away. His backup then scoots around to the passenger side of the car; at the same time the primary officer draws his taser and points it at the driver. He tells her to get out of the car or he's going to tase her.
His backup goes around to the other side of the car. It's difficult to make out but he appears to open the door and lean into the car. Driver is on the phone telling her mother where she is. Primary officer repeats several times "Get out or I'm going to tase you." There is an abrupt end to the phone conversation and then the officer tases her. Talking to her afterward, the officer goes out of his way to say she swung at the secondary officer after he grabbed the phone. You cannot see this on the video. The driver tumbles out of the car onto the ground. When she doesn't roll over to get handcuffed (she is screaming and wailing hysterically) the primary officer tases her again. Then they both descend upon her and cuff her.
I think the primary officer went too far when he pulled the taser. It would have been more appropriate to grab her arm and snatch her out of that car. The interviewed training officer even stated that this would have been appropriate but explained that the reason this would be avoided was because the driver could be hurt while being pulled out (could hit her head, etc.). This is not very convincing as hitting someone with 50,000 volts is going to cause a body's muscles to spasm; after all, it made this woman fall out of her car. The training officer - almost sheepishly - also tacks on an explanation that physically removing her could get the officer injured; this, of course, is the only logical reason for the taser's use.
However, I think this officer is within the margin of error (at least in the first use). It's easy to look at this with 20/20 hindsight and realize this was an inappropriate to pull the taser in a case wherein there is no indication of a physical threat and the "crime" is driving suspended. The officer was faced with a belligerent driver who jerked away from him. He then draws the taser but doesn't fire; that's an over reaction. When the secondary officer grabbed the phone I'm sure she either went to strike him or (more likely) instinctively grabbed to hold onto the phone. At this point another officer was in potential danger and he was correct to use the taser.
My question is: What the heck did the secondary officer think he was doing? Going to the other side of the car where he can observe and react to the driver seems obviously correct. Opening the door makes sense because it gives him the option of using his taser or capstun as opposed to having only a pistol which could penetrate from the car's exterior. But then he gets into the car. This makes absolutely no sense. It takes him out of a backup, observation and support role and puts him into danger for no reason. He puts himself into the vehicle with her where all sorts of things could go wrong. And then he grabs her phone. Why? Is this in some way meant to defuse the situation or get her out of the car? I don't see how that could in any way be helpful. This guy seems to have really screwed up.
What started me thinking about this is the fact that the training officer totally avoided all of the secondary officer's actions and the reaction of the primary officer in firing the taser. Why avoid the obvious justification for using the taser? Another officer in danger is a more convincing argument than "she wouldn't get out of the car." And it's not something he could have missed in the tape. The primary officer seems to be intent on making sure that the tape has the information as to why he shot her; he says it to her when they're all standing in front of the camera and then keeps the tape running when he calls his sergeant and tells him the same story.
Yes, this lady was a royal pain in the @@@. Yes, the officer who fired the taser appears to have been correct at that moment (assuming she moved toward the secondary officer). But the situation appears to have been, as a whole, a massive screw up.
If there are any officers who read this blog, I invite you to comment. I'm a lawyer, not an officer. I don't know police procedure. I'd really be interested in any explanation of the second officer's actions.