ACLU Report shows Nebraska agencies regularly use TASERs against vulnerable people
Agencies have inconsistent policies, training and reporting.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 19, 2014
LINCOLN – Today the ACLU released a report on Taser use that finds Nebraska law enforcement has grossly misused Tasers in several instances. The report, entitled Dangerously Out of Bounds: Tasers in Nebraska, investigates eleven police departments from January 2013 to May 2014. Two agencies that had previously cooperated with ACLU requests, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department, refused to provide any records.
Tasers release 50,000 volts of electricity that jolt the body’s central nervous system. While often classified as a “less-lethal” weapon, Amnesty International reports that there have been over 540 Taser-related deaths in the United States in the past thirteen years. Because of the dangers associated with using a Taser, the Department of Justice has provided guidelines for safely using a Taser. The ACLU evaluated Nebraska law enforcement agencies adherence to these guidelines.
These guidelines include:
- Taser deployment is only justified when a subject is exhibiting active aggression or actively resisting in a manner that will cause injury to themselves or others.
- Law enforcement officers must avoid using Tasers in a coercive or punitive manner, which means the avoidance of drive-stun mode and ensuring that multiple shocks are warranted.
- Targeting sensitive body areas—including the chest—can increase the risk of injury or death and thus should be avoided.
- Lastly, officers must be aware that members of vulnerable populations may be more susceptible to injury or death and should be Tasered only in extreme circumstances.
The ACLU’s investigation found that most policies failed to comply with the above guidelines. Policies frequently provided minimal information that would help a law enforcement officer determine if Taser use was appropriate.
“The lack of oversight and guidance for law enforcement officers who may be using a Taser is beyond appalling,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “50,000 volts of electricity can be lethal. The fact that officers on our streets and in our schools have these weapons and little, if any, policies or are in place on how to use them should concern all Nebraskans.”
In addition to asking for policies, the ACLU also asked for use of force reports related to Tasers. According to the ACLU, it is difficult to compare one department to another because the reporting forms vary greatly. For example, some ask for race of the individual who was Tasered and others do not.
The reports reviewed by the ACLU documented several instances when Tasers were used against the recommendations of the Department of Justice. These include:
- An elderly disabled man with dementia Tasered by Omaha Police
- A man Tasered by Grand Island Police for “staring down” officer from hospital bed.
- A Hastings man Tasered in retaliation for spitting on officers.
- A woman with mental illness Tasered while sitting in Grand Island.
- A ten year old child Tasered by Kearney Police in a public school.
“Some of the individuals who have been Tasered by Nebraska law enforcement have been incredibly vulnerable and at risk for extreme mental and physical health problems due to being Tasered. It is time that all Nebraska law enforcement agencies have policies that rein in this inappropriate use of force. The lack of accountability and oversight on Tasers can be improved with comprehensive written policies that include the Department of Justice recommendations,” said Miller.
The report has minimal information on two of Nebraska’s largest police departments, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department. While these agencies have provided records in the past, both agencies refused to do so.
“This means nearly three-quarters of a million Nebraskans live in a community that refuses to be accountable and transparent about their use of a weapon that has killed hundreds of Americans,” said Miller. “This is one of the most disturbing instances of police withholding public information that we have seen. When a device can kill or severely injure someone, people have a right to know how that device is being used in Nebraska.”