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Police using Tasers as tool of torture

By Eric Ruder | September 28, 2007 | Page 1

A 21-year-old student at the University of Florida was pinned to the floor by four police officers and shocked with a Taser gun after asking a question at a campus forum addressed by Sen. John Kerry. Within hours, videos of the Tasing were posted on the Internet, turning the story into headline news--and thrusting the issue of police use of excessive force and stun guns into the public eye.

Andrew Meyer had asked Kerry about impeaching George Bush, why Kerry hadn't challenged the 2004 election results, and whether Kerry was a member of the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University that George Bush also belonged to.

Meyer's microphone was cut off, and police started to drag him out of the auditorium. Kerry can be heard saying, "That's all right, let me answer his question." The Internet video shows Meyer pinned to the floor and telling police that if they let him up, he'll leave.

That's when the cops used a stun gun, causing Meyer's to scream in pain and ask, "What did I do?"

The following day, about 300 students occupied a university building in protest. Benjamin Dictor, one of the student protesters, called for the officers to be disciplined, Tasers to be banned on campus, and all charges against Meyer dropped. "For a question to be met with arrest, not to mention physical violence, is completely unacceptable in the United States, especially in the halls of education," Dictor said.

A news anchor from the right-wing Fox News network saw it differently. The use of the stun gun was good police work, according to anchor Gregg Jarrett. "The Taser device actually is a method by which you decrease the level of force by subduing somebody, not increasing the level of force," Jarrett said. "These police officers ought to be commended for what it is they did."

But the sharp increase in the use of Tasers by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. in the last five years has not only resulted in greater instances of police misconduct and torture, but more unnecessary deaths.

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ROUGHLY 200,000 Tasers have been sold to law-enforcement agencies in the past nine years. Some 270 people have died over the last five years after being shocked by the devices, which deliver a 50,000-volt jolt through two barbed darts that penetrate clothing and embed in the skin.

The range of stories about police abuse of stun guns is frightening. Last year, Emily Delafield, a 56-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with a history of mental illness, died after Green Cove, Fla., police "Tasered her 10 times for a period of, like, two minutes," according to Rick Alexander, an attorney that Delafield's family hired to sue the police department.

Last year, Colorado prisoner Raul Gallegos-Reyes died after being strapped to a restraint chair and stunned. In a matter of weeks in 2004, Miami police used stun guns on a 6-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.

Ivy Gisclair also has a story to tell about Tasers. He was about to be released after being held by New Orleans police for unpaid parking tickets when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. After the nightmare of trying to survive with thousands of other prisoners in a flooded jail, Gisclair was transferred to a maximum-security prison.

"Once there, Gisclair apparently had the nerve to inquire about being held past his release date," according to a report on Taser abuse in In These Times magazine. "Gisclair has testified that he was then restrained and stunned repeatedly with a Taser, before being thrown, naked and unconscious, into solitary confinement."

Police are also increasingly using Tasers against nonviolent protesters. Philadelphia officers used stun guns against protesters during the 2000 Republican National Convention. Antiwar activists in Pittsburgh and strikers at military contractor Raytheon in Chula Vista, Calif., have also been the victims of police Taser guns.

In Olympia, Wash., police used a stun gun against Navy veteran Wally Cuddeford, who along with more than 200 others was protesting the shipment of 300 Stryker tanks to Iraq.

"I was standing in the crowd of protesters, and the police grabbed me and threw me down on the gravel," said Cuddeford. "While being under a pile of about four police officers, they began applying their Taser to me in my back...They Tasered me three times while I was down on the ground and then dragged me across the pavement and charged me with third-degree assault."

Matthew Fogg--a former U.S. Marshal, a long-time SWAT specialist, vice president of Blacks in Government, and member of the board of Amnesty International USA--argues that too many police use Tasers as "compliance mechanisms." "It's something along the lines of, 'If I don't like you, I can torture you,'" he says.

This rise in police torture should come as no surprise at a time when the Bush administration has publicly defended torture techniques as legitimate measures against uncooperative detainees--and with the USA PATRIOT Act giving police broad new powers and curtailing basic civil liberties.

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