Niagara County Judge: tasing a suspect into compliance with DNA test = okay
June 5, 2009 9:01 AM   Subscribe

A new twist in the controversy over the (ab)use of tasers. A judge in Niagara County, NY has decided that tasing a suspect who refused to submit to DNA testing was a reasonable use of force. Ryan Smith, accused of robbery and kidnapping, already submitted one sample, which was contaminated when the government sent it to the wrong laboratory, and refused to give one a second time. The police asked a prosecutor what to do. His response: they could use force to get the sample, but as little as possible. So they tased Smith, who then submitted to the buccal swab.

The police told Smith, who had a history of violence, that if he did not let them take a buccal swab he would be tased on "drive stun" mode (the government claimed he said he'd "have to be tased" for them to get it). He persisted in his refusal, so they let him have it for 2 seconds, rendering him unconscious (which the police dispute), after which he submitted. Smith's lawyer moved to suppress the DNA evidence. The police argued that they considered the alternatives of holding Smith down and prying his mouth open, but this would have been dangerous for all parties concerned and could have left Smith with lasting injuries. However, testimony showed that at the time Smith was tased he was handcuffed and sitting on the floor, surrounded by five police officers.

The court thought that the order effectively acted as a search warrant. Reasonable force can be used to carry out search warrants, and the officers' actions were reasonable given Smith's violent history. Smith's attempt to suppress the DNA evidence as improperly obtained was therefore denied.

Was this torture? Some (like Smith's lawyer) think so. Others find the 4th Amendment questions more interesting - for instance, if an order to submit to DNA testing is now a de facto search warrant in Niagara county. The results of the test link Smith to a robbery and a shooting.
posted by R_Nebblesworth (157 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are there any serious efforts to discredit the idea that a taser is not dangerous?
posted by odinsdream at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Using violence to respond to nonviolent actions, even criminal ones, should never be an option for law enforcement. Is there any state that has passed a law to that effect?
posted by Nonce at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Did he willingly submit to the handcuffing? Or did they "risk injury" by doing the handcuffing and then tase him?
posted by DU at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2009


Also, do used silverware and drinking cups, cigarette butts, saliva on pillows, strands of hair, or other human detritus that would be easily obtained from someone's home contain the necessary DNA information for the test that was needed?
posted by Nonce at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2009


Cops are acting in the same way as a child would if given a hammer as a toy.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2009 [33 favorites]


DU, I believe the police first approached him on the street and asked for a swab. When he refused, they handcuffed him and brought him into the station house, where they sat him on the floor, ostensibly to avoid injury from falling after the tasing.
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2009


that would be easily obtained from someone's home contain the necessary DNA information for the test that was needed?

Probably, but having DNA in someone's home isn't a guarantee that it is their DNA.

Still, we've gotten taze happy in this country, and we need to figure out a way to stop this. If the suspect was restrained, seated, and surrounded, they could have found another way.
posted by quin at 9:21 AM on June 5, 2009


He persisted in his refusal, so they let him have it for 2 seconds, rendering him unconscious (which the police dispute), after which he submitted.

I don't like how this was worded. Its akin to those guys in a fraternity who insist some passed out girl "submitted" because she lacked the faculty to say no, as she was FUCKING UNCONSCIOUS.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2009 [13 favorites]


Republican torture tactics come home.
posted by pracowity at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2009 [13 favorites]


he would be tased on "drive stun" mode

Tasers have modes? Like phasers on star trek? That's SO COOL.

Oh yeah, except the people on star trek had things like ethics, and discretion.
posted by 7segment at 9:23 AM on June 5, 2009 [13 favorites]


Using violence to respond to nonviolent actions, even criminal ones, should never be an option for law enforcement

One of the many problems with Tasers, I think, is that when the police are told 'non-lethal', they interpret that as 'non-consequential'. No kill, no foul, right?
posted by permafrost at 9:23 AM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


The taser is a truly game-changing technology in the field of criminal law; our entire intuitions regarding human conduct are based on assumptions that the taser negates. The taser is a technology that represents instantaneous compliance induction through simultaneous muscular disruption and intense nociceptor activation. It represents a power exponentially greater than more primitive forms of force which carried higher risks and therefore acted as endogenous inhibitions on their deployment by police officers. In thinking about the taser, it might be beneficial to separate its pain induction from its body-autonomy shutdown. We might ponder a taser that is painless yet nevertheless disables a human's bodily autonomy for the duration of the electrical impulse. The US Constitution did not presage such a power in the hands of the State because the technology did not exist; as noted to overcome a person's autonomy pre-taser technology required high costs in terms of risk and effort, but now absolute compliance is available with the press of a button. Is there a basic human right to dignity and autonomy? Does the State rightly hold the power to shutdown your bodily autonomy at the press of a button? There is of course supposed to be procedure involved in taser deployment, but there has yet to be an acknowledgment of the historical significance of this paradigmatic technology.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2009 [77 favorites]


Couldn't they just find him in contempt of court or something like that? Put him in jail until he willingly gives up his DNA.
Like they do to journalists who won't give up their sources when ordered to by a judge.
posted by Iax at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would say that not only are we on the famous slippery slope, we are tumbling down it ass-over-teakettle.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


dances_with_sneetches: Elmore demonstrates an important point. If the possibility of abuse exists, then you can be sure it will be taken advantage of.

I don't get why in all those CSI shows everyone seems to voluntarily give DNA samples. ("Look, we could go and get warrants, or you could save us time by giving us your DNA willingly.") Then again, in those shows they somehow let the crime scene forensics team interview suspects, so whatever.
posted by ODiV at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


This was sloppy work on behalf of the police. It's unclear from the bit I read whether the order the police were enforcing complied with the requirements and procedural limitations of a 4th Amendment Search Warrant. If it did, then they are correct that reasonable force is allowed. But putting aside that issue, it would have been incredibly easy to take the individual, once in custody, before the Court for a show cause hearing. Whether this gets reversed on exclusionary rule grounds is likely dependent on the specific record regarding the order in question which we are not privy too. My guess is that an appellate court would find that limited uses of the taser device, in appropriate circumstances and with safeguards, would be reasonable in effecting a valid search warrant under the 4th Amendment.

But this is just an example of sloppy work on the DA's part who should have recommended bringing the guy before the Court.
posted by dios at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2009


72 year old grandmother tasered. Apparently she refused to sign a speeding ticket, and was mouthing off to the cop. Because you, 72 year old ladies are very dangerous and of course elderly people never die from falling to the ground.
posted by delmoi at 9:27 AM on June 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


Using violence to respond to nonviolent actions, even criminal ones, should never be an option for law enforcement.

To the extent that this statement applies to this sort of situation, the statement is patently absurd and contrary to the rule of law.

Any use of force could be categorized as "violence." Whether one is seizing a subject to prevent him from fleeing (flight being a nonviolent action) or dragging a trespassing protestor off of private property, many kinds police action involve some level of violence.

The State is the sole possessor of legitimate violence, and as such is responsible for ensuring that those charged with enforcement of laws carry out the violent acts necessary to such enforcement in a manner that results in the minimum of harm. Just because a lawbreaker is engaged in nonviolent conduct does not mean the police should be powerless to compel compliance with lawful orders in a timely fashion. To argue otherwise is to ignore reality.

In this case, the police were responsible for collecting a DNA sample under a lawful warrant. The subject's refusal to cooperate in this lawful collection presented the police officers with an unpleasant choice between an array of different methods to compel his cooperation. As professionals, they opted to use the option with the lowest likelihood of actual lasting injury to anyone involved. Option B was a potentially prolonged and extremely violent struggle with very real risk of lasting injury. It appears they made the correct choice to obtain the outcome they desired: they got the sample, and no one was injured.

The fact the episode smacks of torture is not something my above remarks is intended to contradict. I only address the question of whether violence against nonviolent subjects is legitimate and necessary in a lawful society.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


they had a search warrant for his mouth?
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2009


Ignore that I capitalized "Search Warrant." Not sure why my fingers did that. I did not intend to indicate a proper noun.
posted by dios at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2009


Cops are acting in the same way as a child would if given a hammer as a toy.

My kids would gnaw on it, but don't let a few exceptions prevent you from grossly overgeneralizing...
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:30 AM on June 5, 2009


But Delmoi, we already know that 9 year old children holding candy bars are dangerous, and so are people who's higher brain functions are temporarily disabled by taser induced shocks, so of course a "fully able" 72 year old woman is a threat!

(Dear America: at the point when these people are "threats"? At the point when we're using our intelligence agencies to monitor knitting for peace circles? Fuck terrorists- the CAREBEARS CAN RUN OUR ASSES.)
posted by yeloson at 9:34 AM on June 5, 2009


As professionals, they opted to use the option with the lowest likelihood of actual lasting injury to anyone involved.

As others have said and the "was therefore denied" link above suggests, a much less crazy and dangerous option would have been to bring him before a judge under contempt of court for failing to comply to a court order. Even though it doesn't look as violent, the taser is basically the equivalent of knocking someone to the ground and beating the crap out of them. When someone disobeys a court order, the reasonable thing to do is to bring them to court so they can face the consequences for it, not torture them until they comply.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:35 AM on June 5, 2009 [21 favorites]


I was reading an interesting passage in a forensic procedure handbook the other night in which the author asserted that the most commonly contaminated pieces of evidence (at the scene, not in the lab) in drug and homicide investigations are firearms; much to the chagrin of detectives and forensic techs, officers can't seem to keep their hands off them. The author specifically used the phrase "like a toy." This fact's relevance to the case at hand is left as an exercise to the reader.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:36 AM on June 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


So tasing someone is now reasonable force for enforcing a search warrant. Great so when they arrive at the door with a search warrant and you refuse entry...tase em. When you get pulled over for a traffic offence and they want to search your car...tase em

Makes everything easier. Why wasn't this guy nominated to the Supreme court? He's a genius.
posted by Gungho at 9:36 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Remember when you could tell that Spock's political system was eeeevil because of his willingness to use the agonizer?
posted by mwhybark at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


Undoubtedly, police frequently use tasers when safer, more humane alternatives of compulsion are available. Unfortunately, most of the stories heard about unnecessary taser use seem to involve unrepentant douchebags.
posted by christonabike at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


"They could use force to get the sample, but as little as possible." What the fuck is wrong with America? I mean, I guess it's good they didn't beat him with a phone book till he complied, but still.
posted by chunking express at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2009


Wow. This is really wrong.

They should build the DNA retreival syringe INTO the taser Darts, and test everyone they tase. Problem solved!
posted by Artw at 9:40 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


When scientists want a DNA sample from a whale, they shoot it with a plug cutter. The cutter is retrieved, along with a chunk of whale meat.

There are worse ways to get DNA samples from a suspect than Tasing them.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or, what Artw said.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2009


The first link states that the judge who issued the second order for a DNA sample is the same judge who delivered the opinion. That seems to me to be a huge red flag to any appeals court right there.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've seen this movie before.
posted by @troy at 9:44 AM on June 5, 2009


When you don't even get a "voice of reason" type piping up on MeFi to defend the actions of a cop as perfectly justifiable you know something is screwed up.
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


after which he submitted.

Please define "submitted."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:45 AM on June 5, 2009


So it's come to this. These fucking horrifying devices went from "alternatives to lethal force" to compliance devices. Not signing a ticket? That's a tasing. Not submitting to a search warrant? Tasing. Disrespecting an officer? Tasing. Not speaking the language? Tasing.

Are you perhaps vulnerable to such a weapon because of your physical state? Maybe you're a young child, maybe you're an old grandmother? Who fucking cares! TASING TASING TASING!

Having an armed gang that's been given the go ahead to use torture devices to force compliance is scary as hell. I can't trust anyone given this kind of power, nor can I trust those that gave it to them.
posted by splice at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2009 [19 favorites]


And that's when taser use tipped over into torture for me. "Pain compliance" as a part of a court order. Awesome.
posted by fatbird at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


Now, the whole "non-lethal" aspect. I'm beginning to wonder. If we do take away the tasers, and they believed it was a "non-lethal" alternative. Then, now, in cases where they're using Tasers, they'll just have to happen to use plain old guns?

Has this shifted their perception to the proper/improper use of lethal force to the point that they truly believe they would normally be using guns instead?

I doubt it, I think they know full well that if the cameras weren't rolling, this would be a way for them to do some serious damage without permanent/visible evidence.

Kinda like how it's not torture if you're not permanently scarred or something.
posted by symbioid at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh! Is it possible to retrieve DNA through fecal matter?
posted by symbioid at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2009


How long before cops just automatically shock you with stun gloves at every point in your interaction with them?

"License, please." ZZZZT!

"You didn't signal for that turn back there." ZZAAAAAPP!

"I'm going to let you go with a warning this time." BZZZZT! BZZZT!

"Have a nice day!" ZZP!
posted by orme at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yahweh!
posted by symbioid at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Without a taser, they would have had no choice but to use deadly force. Clearly tasers are being used in the way they were designed.
posted by stbalbach at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK then, translation: That the police use these devices in an abusive way because they are described as non-lethal, with the implication that they do not have consequences, is not at all surprising.

This is just the latest in a long line of these stories and until something is actually done, won't be the last.
posted by Elmore at 9:57 AM on June 5, 2009


Undoubtedly, police frequently use tasers when safer, more humane alternatives of compulsion are available. Unfortunately, most of the stories heard about unnecessary taser use seem to involve unrepentant douchebags.

I would say that all of these stories involve unrepentant douchebags, but I imagine you were referring to the suspects rather than the police.
posted by metagnathous at 9:58 AM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


He persisted in his refusal, so they let him have it for 2 seconds, rendering him unconscious (which the police dispute), after which he submitted.

I don't like how this was worded. Its akin to those guys in a fraternity who insist some passed out girl "submitted" because she lacked the faculty to say no, as she was FUCKING UNCONSCIOUS.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled


Yeah, I probably could have written that better. What happened is, he said "you'll have to tase me to get it," so they tased him for 2 seconds. He pulled away and yelled, and then said he would do the test. His lawyer claims he fell unconscious for a short period of time immediately after being tased, but the government denies that. To make it clear, he was awake for the test (if that makes a difference).
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 9:59 AM on June 5, 2009


I don't even say 'hi' to cops because the consequences of a misunderstanding are just too great.
Poster idea: WARNING: LOCAL POLICE ARE ARMED AND DANGEROUS!
posted by dunkadunc at 10:00 AM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


The first link states that the judge who issued the second order for a DNA sample is the same judge who delivered the opinion. That seems to me to be a huge red flag to any appeals court right there.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:42 PM on June 5 [+] [!]


Generally it would be the same judge, I think (maybe dios can correct me). They are challenging the results of his order, so he in fact is the right one to hear it. The reasoning is what raises the red flag to me, since the police should have brought him in for a contempt hearing once he refused, not tased him into compliance IMO.
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 10:03 AM on June 5, 2009


When you don't even get a "voice of reason" type piping up on MeFi to defend the actions of a cop as perfectly justifiable you know something is screwed up.

Unfortunately for me, I first read it on...gizmodo? Wherever it was, the comments were FULL of police sympathizers and comments that this was 100% okay.

I thought I read that the judge who said this is okay is the same judge that issued the warrant. So she's already been involved with him to a certain extent; wonder if that had any affect on her decision.
posted by inigo2 at 10:03 AM on June 5, 2009


What ever happened to 5th amendment rights? If a suspect does not want to give the courts a DNA sample, isn't it that suspect's right?
posted by explosion at 10:04 AM on June 5, 2009


Search warrant or not, it is the same 4th Amendment Legal analysis.

But really, this is the height of stupidity. You get his lawyer to get him to agree once it has been ordered. It may take a while, but it gets done.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 AM on June 5, 2009




splice, don't forget: have a broken back from falling off an overpass? That's a tasing (19 times).
posted by ryoshu at 10:07 AM on June 5, 2009


explosion, DNA samples are considered more like fingerprints and therefore aren't "testimony" under the 5th Amendment (I believe).
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 10:10 AM on June 5, 2009




“The US Constitution did not presage such a power in the hands of the State because the technology did not exist; as noted to overcome a person's autonomy pre-taser technology required high costs in terms of risk and effort, but now absolute compliance is available with the press of a button. Is there a basic human right to dignity and autonomy? Does the State rightly hold the power to shutdown your bodily autonomy at the press of a button?”

Well said. Although I suspect the founders did make allowances for such changes, or at least attempt to, what with the 10th amendment and such. Not that I’m an absolutist, but it’s fairly clear in the language throughout they were trying to communicate the spirit of the thing. The whole “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” – I mean, it doesn’t say watercraft, or automobiles, etc. but for the most part we lend it that meaning. I’d think they’d be pretty solidly against pain compliance to sidestep self-incrimination.

“As professionals, they opted to use the option with the lowest likelihood of actual lasting injury to anyone involved.”

I disagree. The option with the lowest likelihood of harm would have been (as has been said) to bring him before the court and put him in jail until he complied.

I can see no circumstances under which violence against nonviolent subjects is legitimate and necessary. I’m reminded of folks protesting by tying/chaining/etc. themselves to things. The police have, in some cases, hit them with mace or tear gas. In this circumstance, perhaps they could be tased until they agree to move. I don’t see that as acceptable at all.
If you’re speaking of dragging someone off, that’s a different kind of act – so I'd be with you on the distinction between violence and use of force.
And if you’re saying force against non-violent subjects can be legitimately applied, I’d agree within certain circumstances. So a moot point perhaps.

But as it applies to this case, pain compliance is most certainly violence. I know several holds that can cause excruciating pain but do little or no damage (given a certain degree of skill in execution). Granting I’m an expert and can cause pain without doing physical harm – to what degree is that acceptable?
Or indeed, there are psychotropic drugs which can change one’s mind. Better still – sedatives. Why couldn’t they knock the guy out – by gas or injection, whatever’s less invasive, and then take a DNA sample?
The issue for me is in causing pain. I can’t accept that under any circumstances as a compliance tool even without, perhaps especially without, physical damage or the risk of physical damage. The implications if there was a star trek mirror universe type agonizer are staggering.
What then, for those who will not comply when pain alone is inflicted on them?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


But who will bell this cat? I don't know what to do about this. Anyone I complain to, like the local cops or my Congressman would dismiss me as a crank. Any suggestions as to possible action, or should we just resign ourselves to the inevitable soul-crushing oppression?
posted by RussHy at 10:17 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Probably, but having DNA in someone's home isn't a guarantee that it is their DNA.

Put them in a cell with no one else for a day, and you can guarentee it is theirs. Detaining someone for not complying with a legal court order is > tasering someone for nonviolent resistence.

> Using violence to respond to nonviolent actions, even criminal ones, should never be an option for law enforcement.

To the extent that this statement applies to this sort of situation, the statement is patently absurd and contrary to the rule of law.

Any use of force could be categorized as "violence." Whether one is seizing a subject to prevent him from fleeing (flight being a nonviolent action) or dragging a trespassing protestor off of private property, many kinds police action involve some level of violence.


Ridiculous. Resisting arrest (flight in your example) is a physical escalation of the confrontation and requires a physical response (chasing and tackling). If my wording didn't allow for that, then fine. The wording was wrong. Add this after my sentence: "Also, you can tackle someone who resists arrest by running away."

As for your other example (dragging a protester off private property), it's absurd to the point that I hope I am misreading it. When police drag away nonviolent protesters who resist only by going limp, they are not doing violence to the protesters. A blow is violence. A tasering is violence. All physical contact is not violence.

If the protester in your example is actively, physically resisting being escorted off the property, then of course escalation is warranted. Tasering, however, would not be warranted until this hypothetical protester actually attempted to strike someone or brandishes a weapon.
posted by Nonce at 10:22 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


What ever happened to 5th amendment rights?

This is just my untrained opinion, but to be honest, DNA sampling for purposes of matching evidence is not an invasion of privacy -- we all shed our DNA fingerprint everywhere we go and can hold no expectations that this evidence is within our sacrosanct sphere of personal privacy.

If the police can catch more crooks faster -- and not falsely accuse innocent people to any great extent -- then more power to them wrt DNA screening.

Tasing is just wrong but being found in contempt of court and sent to jail is a reasonable nonviolent inducement IMO.

The courts have found in the past that suspects can refuse to undergo surgery to remove bullet fragments that might link them to the scene of the crime. This is also reasonable, since surgery is an invasion of personal privacy and harmful to the body to such an extent that the 4th Amendment protections of the accused are violated.
posted by @troy at 10:23 AM on June 5, 2009


RussHy: I have the same thoughts. It seems like the only way to do this effectively would be to get the taser re-classified as a potentially lethal weapon.
posted by odinsdream at 10:23 AM on June 5, 2009


I'll just flatly say that tasers should be illegal to use, including for police use, because the potential for abuse or mistakes is just too high. Witness, for example, the guy at the Oakland BART station who, being charitable to the police, was shot and killed because the cop thought he was reaching for his taser.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:28 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


we all shed our DNA fingerprint everywhere we go and can hold no expectations that this evidence is within our sacrosanct sphere of personal privacy.

Why not?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2009


Tasers are used on 72 year old great grandmothers, on prepubescent children, on pregnant women, on semi-unconscious 19 year olds with broken backs and head injuries, on diabetics in comas and on suspects to force confessions or just to torture them for fun-- resulting in severe injuries, coma and death for which police officers are never held responsible.

So, what the fuck will it take to get them out of the hands of the police? How can it possibly get any worse? If all of that isn't bad enough to get them banned, what will it take?
posted by stavrogin at 10:31 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any suggestions as to possible action, or should we just resign ourselves to the inevitable soul-crushing oppression?

Well, if you are a witness to the police breaking the law, I suppose you perform a citizen's arrest. If they failed to comply, whip out your taser and tase them. Since it's all non-lethal and everything.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:32 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Don't tase anyone you wouldn't shoot. It's as simple as that.
posted by Fraxas at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


Aren't cops trained to subdue people? This guy is in the custody of the police and they can't figure out how to subdue and control him other than with a taser?

A friend of mine once witnessed this in Amsterdam: a motorcycle cop was dealing with three drunk and rowdy idiots. He was alone, no backup. The cop was talking to two of them telling them to pack it up and go home or be arrested. In the meantime, behind his back, the third guy decided it would be awesome fun to climb on the cops bike and make a fool of himself. The cop turns around, calmly walks up to moron #3, lifts him off the bike by the neck, wags his finger at him and tells him to go home, too, and quickly. And that was it. At least in LA there'd probably be a couple of dead bodies littering the street if that happened.

I know the US are different because of the avilability of guns etc but still, what ever happened to just handling situations other than with terminal or destructive force? I mean there's so many examples where it's just perfectly clear there was never anything to worry about for the cops. Anybody remember the old lady with the screw driver in LA? Or, I guess, the taser-the-guy-with-the-broken-back story someone posted earlier is a great example too. Guy lays immobilized on the ground after falling off an overpass and talking weird stuff that sounds threatening so you've just got to taser him?

This all just blows my mind...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:42 AM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


I read this stuff and I think, "Gee, maybe we should be training our Police forces differently."
posted by From Bklyn at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm really surprised by how different cops are in Europe. In America, a city the size of Salzburg would have cruisers constantly going around the block, doing sweeps through the park to catch kids smoking weed, and so on. Over here, the only time I see cops is outside the biggest bars on Friday night or when they're on their way to an emergency- in their VW Jetta.
American police forces are just so.. militarized.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:48 AM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


What ever happened to 5th amendment rights? If a suspect does not want to give the courts a DNA sample, isn't it that suspect's right?

Incorrect.

a judge can always order you to give any sample he or she thinks is legal.

None of our rights are absolute. The Constitution provides a protection against arbitrary loss of our rights vis a vis the government.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:49 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that a search warrant should have been issued, or else you have to
answer the question "What part of the word 'persons' in the phrase 'The right of the
people to be secure in their persons...' does not pertain to the person?".

My brother works as a mechanic for a county in a state in America, and the relationship
between the mechanics and the cops in that county is .. jocular and informal ("and they
strap guns to you stupid bastards"). A cop brought in his damaged car for repair, and my
brother made a pointed joke appropriate to the circumstances of the damage to the car
by performing a short piece of physical humor (there was no contact with the cop's
person during this joke).

Later, the cop came back to pick up his car, with 4 of his buddies, and asked my brother to
"do his little joke again". My brother refused, and then a little laser dot appeared on his
chest (one of the cops had unholstered a Taser and lit it up). Quick as a wink, my brother
said "Don't tase me, bro", and they all laughed. They were just funnin'.

From the taser website, the laser only comes on when the Safety switch is in the position
that allows the taser to be shot.

I think we have barely begun to see all the nonlethal ways that tasers can be used.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2009


Disclaimer: The one time I have seen a lot of cops, I was waiting for my train in Linz at the same time a crowd of soccer fans were coming back from a game. There were about thirty to forty guys in riot gear, searching each of them for weapons as they got off the train.
They got to keep drinking their beers, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2009


But as it applies to this case, pain compliance is most certainly violence. I know several holds that can cause excruciating pain but do little or no damage (given a certain degree of skill in execution). Granting I’m an expert and can cause pain without doing physical harm – to what degree is that acceptable?

the assumption people seem to have in these cases is that, absent the Taser, police wouldn't have used some other means to obtain compliance. If the suspect here had come back from getting his DNA swabbed with a black eye after having tripped while wearing handcuffs... would his lawyer have bothered to pursue this or just try to plea down the charges?
posted by geos at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2009


So, what the fuck will it take to get them out of the hands of the police? How can it possibly get any worse? If all of that isn't bad enough to get them banned, what will it take?

They are non-lethal. That makes them great in my mind. The don't result in people getting killed at anywhere near the rate that guns do. TASER deaths are extremely rare per use, unlike guns. That's fantastic as far as I am concerned.

Police regulations require shots to kill with handguns. Not so with tasers.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on June 5, 2009


American police forces are just so.. militarized.

there's an attitude difference as well. American cops have this weird chip on their shoulders and seem to feel the need to act like total assholes to members of the public at all times. The concept of being a public servant doesn't come into it in the slightest.
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


jesus christ, people, did george carlin die in vain? you have never had any rights, you don't have them now and you won't have them in the future. you have no rights, shut the fuck up and get back to work.
posted by kitchenrat at 10:55 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read this stuff and I think, "Gee, maybe we should be training our Police forces differently."

Perhaps police academy cadets should have to undergo a mandatory tasering as part of their training. I'm only half kidding.
posted by orange swan at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2009


I'll just flatly say that tasers should be illegal to use, including for police use, because the potential for abuse or mistakes is just too high. Witness, for example, the guy at the Oakland BART station who, being charitable to the police, was shot and killed because the cop thought he was reaching for his taser.

I'm going to call this out as the dumbest possible argument against TASERS I have ever heard. The mistake had nothing to do with the TASER itself. A TASER was not even used.

Plus, under that argument, police themselves should not be armed. That would not be a good plan here in the US, where it is legal to own weapons.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:58 AM on June 5, 2009


When scientists want a DNA sample from a whale, they shoot it with a plug cutter. The cutter is retrieved, along with a chunk of whale meat.

There are worse ways to get DNA samples from a suspect than Tasing them.


Bring that marine biology example down to human scale, and you have just described a skin biopsy. I'm reasonably certain the the procedure doesn't involve writhing in pain on the doctor's office floor.
posted by zennie at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2009


orange swan: I would say that without kidding at all. And actually, some places actually do that.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:01 AM on June 5, 2009


They are non-lethal.

Thin-skull: there seems to be a (fairly large) subset of the population at high risk if shocked. Death rates are in the 1 in 100 uses range (at least based on Canadian police statistics for the past few years). That seems rather more than non-lethal to me, but it all depends on your comfort on accidental death rates, I guess.
posted by bonehead at 11:02 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


orange swan: that's SOP for the RCMP training at least.
posted by bonehead at 11:03 AM on June 5, 2009


So, what the fuck will it take to get them out of the hands of the police?

We've got to convince people to stop thinking, "I'm a good, law-abiding citizen who would never give the cops a reason to use a taser on me -- it's those other folks who'll get tasered or accidentally fatally shot."

And we've got to get Americans to stop taking glee in seeing people accused of crimes and/or whom they perceive as threats to their safety being punished in physically and emotionally brutal ways.

So...yeah. It's not gonna happen.

I'm really surprised by how different cops are in Europe.

It's not just cops, it tends to be any sort of "security" or official. While touring a museum in Italy a few years ago, I, to my shame, played the Ugly American Tourist card and took a picture in an area where flash photography was expressly forbidden. The museum attendant just gave me a sad look, shook his head, and "Signor, signor...no flash." I felt like the Jerk of the Year, apologized profusely and left. In America, there'd have been a frakkin' huge scene with the official yelling, "Sir! Flash photography is NOT permitted in this area!" with the intent not just to shame me, but embarass me and remind me of the power structure.

I'm also reminded of an interview on Australian tv with Maurice Greene after he and his relay teammates made asses of themselves at the Sydney Games. The interviewer made Greene just sit there and watch a replay of the incident. After several uncomfortable minutes, the host said, "It goes on for a while, doesn't it?" Greene hung his head and whispered, "Yeah." Meanwhile in America, the talking heads are foaming at the mouth, with great vengeance and furious anger, talking about how it's the most horrible thing they've ever seen and Greene and his teammates needed to be punished, punished, punished in some way.

I think America in general just doesn't do "reasonable and restrained" use of authority or force very well.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:04 AM on June 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


“As professionals, they opted to use the option with the lowest likelihood of actual lasting injury to anyone involved.”

I disagree. The option with the lowest likelihood of harm would have been (as has been said) to bring him before the court and put him in jail until he complied.


I also disagree because these cops did not know the medical history of this person. They stopped using tasers in Canada because 20 people have died after being tased. Death is a pretty lasting injury to me.
posted by birdherder at 11:09 AM on June 5, 2009


Here was a fun conversation I had over the weekend while hunting with a few friends:

Friend: So I have a buddy who is in the FBI. He says they sneak into people's houses all the time without warrants and just grab or look through whatever they want and then just disappear. Hilarious!!

Me: What is this, Russia? Yeah that's hilarious until it's your family's house they are fucking around with.

Friend: What does it matter, if you're not doing anything wrong?

Me: ..... Don't we have a constitution in this country?

Friend: As long as you aren't a criminal you shouldn't have to worry.

Me (in my head cuz what's the point by now): I wonder how you'd feel about that logic if it were applied to the Amendment that lets us wander around here with shotguns that we bought at WalMart with nothing but a driver's license.
posted by spicynuts at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think America in general just doesn't do "reasonable and restrained" use of authority or force very well.

The usual explanation given for cops is that they *have* to act like assholes because anyone could whip out a gun at any time. I'd kind of question how this applies to museum guards and the like, who as you point out have the exact same thing going on.
posted by Artw at 11:18 AM on June 5, 2009


This reminds me. I need to renew a membership.
posted by zennie at 11:22 AM on June 5, 2009


WARNING: LOCAL POLICE ARE ARMED AND DANGEROUS!

If they failed to comply, whip out your taser and tase them.

I once worked for a city council in the US. At some point, the purchase of tasers for the local PD was debated, and it would be difficult to overstate how enthusiastic police support for this was. For the police, the argument in favor of tasers was, and continues to be everywhere, safety, both for cops and suspects.

Well, there's building consensus in Canada that tasers aren't universally safe for suspects, especially when used on people with preexisting health problems. As for police safety, the argument is usually boiled down to the idea that tasers are preferable to guns. I never bought this. Are these the only two options for keeping distance between cops and suspects? What did the police do before tasers when dealing with an uncooperative suspect? Shoot him? In some cases, probably, but not in most.

Frankly, I think a big chunk of police support for tasers is that they're cool (one of the city councilors argued the same thing). Cops are exposed to dangerous individuals regularly. It's one of the main reasons I wouldn't become a cop; it's scary work. And while I have no doubt most cops really are upstanding, I worry about those few who'll want to go crazy tesing the thing out at every available juncture. "Speeding? That's a taserin'". "Jaywalking? That's a taserin'". "Eh...giving me the stink-eye? That's a big taserin'!"
posted by walrus hunter at 11:24 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps police academy cadets should have to undergo a mandatory tasering as part of their training. I'm only half kidding.

They do that with pepper spray already. Does it really make a difference?
posted by meowzilla at 11:26 AM on June 5, 2009


Having been hit with pepper spray, I can tell you it's unpleasant, but a part of you is also wondering what it might taste like on a salad.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:32 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


>we all shed our DNA fingerprint everywhere we go and can hold no expectations that this evidence is within our sacrosanct sphere of personal privacy.

Why not?


DNA signature is our fingerprint on the cellular level. Courts have already ruled we don't have a constitutional right to refuse blood drawings for alcohol level testing, and getting cellular DNA evidence is way less invasive than that.

If (for some technical reason) DNA testing were limited to the male gametes (ewww) it would be an interesting question of how far the police should go to compel surrender of evidence, and I would say that would be an bridge too far wrt compelling suspects to act against their will. Same thing with urine and poop samples.

But we leave our cellular detritus trailing in the air everywhere we go so I don't see the violation of privacy.

Like our faces, for better or worse our genomic ID is public information.
posted by @troy at 11:34 AM on June 5, 2009


What did the police do before tasers when dealing with an uncooperative suspect?

Billy club.
posted by @troy at 11:36 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The police asked a prosecutor what to do. His response: they could use force to get the sample, but as little as possible.

The prosecutor?! I don't know a lot about US law, but I thought it required a judge to sign off on things like a search warrant. Why even bother with a pretense of due process if all you need to do to authorize this kind of search is to get a prosecutor to sign off on it?!
I am confused.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:39 AM on June 5, 2009


geos: the assumption people seem to have in these cases is that, absent the Taser, police wouldn't have used some other means to obtain compliance. If the suspect here had come back from getting his DNA swabbed with a black eye after having tripped while wearing handcuffs...

I'm not sure anybody would be assuming this. Police have the right to and should be able to subdue suspects and obtain compliance. I don't think anybody has a problem with that. The issue I think is that they can be expected to be trained specialists capable of achieving this without causing death, injury and/or unnecessary pain. Police must be made to understand that they have no right to expect their job to be easy. While any individual can resort to unlawful behavior and thus has a much wider range of possible actions they can take in a conflict with the police the police themselves, as representatives of the law, should never have the ability to resort to similar methods and take shortcuts. When you have a situation you deal with it even if it takes 10 guys to subdue someone properly.

I sometimes have the feeling that the way police operate in the US has some connection to certain predominant moral and ethical tendencies that emphasize vengeance and retribution over impartial and proper application and execution of the law. It's almost as if, once you break the law or refuse to comply with authorities, you somehow waive your right to be protected by it. This is not exactly a hallmark of a nation based on the rule of law. A nation rooted in the rule of law must try to ensure that its representatives and agents hold themselves to the highest standards even in the face of severe adversity.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


But Americans like that kidn of thing, because it works in movies and sounds cool.
posted by Artw at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


>: it would be difficult to overstate how enthusiastic police support for this was.

Sometime around the time the Iraq war was firing up, the cops in my town started raising a fuss about how they needed better equipment in case of Terrorism. Their wish-list included automatic shotguns and offroad-capable SUVs. What did they do with these SUVs? They drive out into the woods and bust kids drinking. I bet they got the shotguns as well.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:43 AM on June 5, 2009


Did they get a .50 cal?
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on June 5, 2009


In another incident, the park rangers at Acadia National Park (Smokey the Pig, we call them) broke up a nighttime hike and managed to break a handcuffed guy's face. Happily, the ever-so-nice Bangor Daily reassures us that the park rangers are very, very highly trained, so everything's all right.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:49 AM on June 5, 2009


The prosecutor?! I don't know a lot about US law, but I thought it required a judge to sign off on things like a search warrant. Why even bother with a pretense of due process if all you need to do to authorize this kind of search is to get a prosecutor to sign off on it?!
I am confused.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:39 PM on June 5 [+] [!]


The prosecutor didn't "sign off" on it because he doesn't have that authority. The police were just looking for his advice, i.e. "how far can we go without the evidence getting thrown out?"
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 11:50 AM on June 5, 2009


>: Did they get a .50 cal?

No, but these days they actually pull guns when busting pit parties. Imagine the uproar if Officer Friendly shot some teenage kid.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:51 AM on June 5, 2009


Aren't police allowed to use force to collect DNA samples if they're mandated by court order?
posted by Pseudology at 11:54 AM on June 5, 2009


Does anyone know of any reliable, non-police statistical studies on Tasers?

One of the problems with analyzing Tasers is that we always hear about when a Taser is abused, but never hear about when a Taser is used in a situation where deadly force would have previously been used - it's not news when a guy doesn't die. My quick Google searching only found police reports that didn't seem especially in depth.

Anyway, my broader point is for people to keep in mind that the evidence of good that Tasers may have done is invisible, while the evidence of abuse is visible.
posted by taliaferro at 11:54 AM on June 5, 2009


There's growing movement in Canada to be done with the damn things. Our former RCMP commissioner supports the idea. Quebec is pulling all their tasers and testing them: a CBC study found that at least 10% of tasers are over-voltage. The same is being quietly done in BC and, I think, the rest of Canada.

Taser International should be sued into oblivion. The lies they have told and the lawsuts they have pressed — good god, it's insane that our police forces bought their line of bullshit.

One notes that the cops very rarely used guns in Canada, preferring instead to use their brains and words. With the introduction of tasers, which were supposed to be an alternative to lethal force, we see them using them as if they were tickling their suspect with puppies and rainbows. The amount of violence has radically increased with the introduction of tasers.

Bloody stupid.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:55 AM on June 5, 2009


I doubt this has any legal implication, but I find it interesting that the suspect had complied with the first order to surrender DNA evidence, but refused the second. How many shots do the police get at this? As many as they want until they get it right? Are they allowed to tase the suspect each time if he refuses to comply? Can the duration of the tasing increase if he still refuses to comply? Two seconds for the first refusal, four seconds for the second, etc.

Maybe Bybee can write a memo on the duration and voltage that can be used.
posted by ryoshu at 11:58 AM on June 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


Obama can't appoint new judges on the Supreme Court fast enough, cause this shit's got to stop somewhere.
posted by tula at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2009


Aren't police allowed to use force to collect DNA samples if they're mandated by court order?

It's an interesting question, but I'd juxtapose it with a similar question. A court order is issued for me to turn over documents I have in a safe. Are the police justified in using force to get me to open the safe?
posted by ryoshu at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps police academy cadets should have to undergo a mandatory tasering as part of their training. I'm only half kidding.

Half-kidding, eh?

Police officers in at least five US states have filed lawsuits against Taser International claiming they suffered serious injuries after being shocked with the device during training classes. (source)

If some officers who volunteered to be tased during training, to demonstrate that tasers are safe, actually suffered injuries and sued Taser International, why the fuck are they still using tasers against the general population? Too dangerous to make it mandatory for the cops to receive a tasering, the maker is so deceitful that their clients are suing them, but use them against non-cops? PERFECTLY SAFE!
posted by splice at 12:14 PM on June 5, 2009 [14 favorites]


Perhaps police academy cadets should have to undergo a mandatory tasering as part of their training. I'm only half kidding.

I'd favor, instead, requiring that any time a police offer tases someone, they receive the same tasing later that day. I am not joking in the slightest.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


taliaferro: The most complete dataset that I'm aware of is that reported by the Canadian RCMP disclosed due to a court of inquiry. The RCMP is our national police force, acting like the US FBI, but also provides local policing for about half of all Canadians. The CBC page is here, with subpages on taser use (2002-2008), taser deaths (2003-present) and overall taser use.
posted by bonehead at 12:25 PM on June 5, 2009


“Don't tase anyone you wouldn't shoot. It's as simple as that.”
Bingo.

“Aren't cops trained to subdue people? This guy is in the custody of the police and they can't figure out how to subdue and control him other than with a taser?”

Not to go off on another rant on training expenses vs. equipment costs but yeah, any day I can’t subdue one man with four men at my back it’s time to retire. It’s like these guys lost the keys to the gym.

“The don't result in people getting killed at anywhere near the rate that guns do. TASER deaths are extremely rare per use, unlike guns. That's fantastic as far as I am concerned.”

Except there are circumstances in which they’re being used in something other than a self-defense role. That invalidates them as realistic tool – not across the board I’ll grant, but a ruling like this is close enough to following the abuse as standard operating procedure that it could well be used, in the majority, as a tool of compliance rather than self-defense.

Also – my buddies and I used to tase the hell out of each other. Used to hit each other with stun guns to see who could stand it the longest. Got boring after a while. So – you tase the hell out of someone – maybe they pass out, typically fall, etc. So they get up again, non-threateningly, and just stand there and refuse to – do whatever – give you some chicklets, who knows. Now what?
I’m not a big fan of inflicting pain when I fight. I prefer force. Granted I’m still young and strong and I’m fairly large anyway so I can get away with straight muscle sometimes, but for the most part proper technique is still leverage and still more certain than using pain. Proper application of force is always superior and more predictable than inflicting pain.
This principle does not change simply because it’s a technological device delivering the pain.
Don't know that I could consecutively knock people out while inflicting minimal damage, but I understand the taser isn't 100% on that either.
And the point is not to force the individuals mind into submission, but his body into impotence. A decent wrestler could do that.

“So I have a buddy who is in the FBI. He says they sneak into people's houses all the time without warrants and just grab or look through whatever they want and then just disappear. Hilarious!!”

Mrs. Smed: “Honey…. There’s a torso wearing a chewed up suit and tie in the foyer?”
Smed: “Do you have a left forearm? There’s one in the garage.”
Mrs. Smed: “No, but there’s a…oh, wait, here’s some ID. FBI apparently.”
Smed: “Huh. Wonder what they wanted….?”
Mrs. Smed: “Dunno. But we won’t have to buy dog food for a while.”

Or what, I come home and find my dogs dead? I just don’t get the common sense behind those laws – the invasiveness aside of course. I mean – they come in, my dogs maul them – am I responsible for that? If they came in, showed me a legal warrant, I’d comply, put the dogs away. And on the other side – do they have a right to kill my animals with impunity in the course of a search? Or they make a mistake and someone is home – what’s the accountability there? Two guys standing in my hall saying they’re FBI doesn’t mean they *are * FBI. Do they go in with ID? If I kill them in the middle of the night, am I at fault because they were serving a legal warrant by sneaking in quietly? How are they held accountable? I mean, say I sleep with some FBI guys wife – he goes into my house and kills me – says he was doing a warrantless search and –whoops.
People always forget that the law protects both ways. Yeah, cops need a warrant, and that protects you, and not just your house – maybe the cops want to “investigate” a whorehouse every few days. Well, without oversight whos to say how they're spending their time.

And by the same token – if he’s got a warrant in his pocket – you know he’s supposed to be there, a judge knows he’s supposed to be there, if something happens to him while he’s in your house, you’re accountable. So it protects the police as well.
Damn crazy thing.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:25 PM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Obama can't appoint new judges on the Supreme Court fast enough, cause this shit's got to stop somewhere.
posted by tula at 1:59 PM on June 5


Ack..... not this argument again.

Seriously people. Did you sleep through 3rd grade civics?? Did you somehow miss School House Rock??

You want this stopped? Talk to the LEGISLATURE. They are the one that make the laws and enact policy. They are the ones who can stop this.

Please, please, please for the sake of this country, do not look at the Supreme Court as a place where your policy views can be championed! We need to try hard to make the Court be more legitimate and look less political. Saying that you want your preferred party to pack the Court to achieve your policy goals is an incongruous and damaging position.
posted by dios at 12:32 PM on June 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


Haven't there been instances where soldiers in Iraq used stun guns on detainees and were in turn disciplined for excessive use of force?

Do these cops think they're in a war zone or something?
posted by orme at 12:40 PM on June 5, 2009


How many times have we seen police jurisdictions swear that they Tasers are only meant as alternatives to lethal force, only to have them used to compel cooperation?

Honest to God, how many people have to die before one of these brutes is imprisoned for abuse and assault? New York is now talking about adding more of them and you can bet the misuse will increase.

One of these days, an arrested person is going to manage to turn one of these things on the cop and I am going to cheer. Of course, he'll immediately be shot dead.
posted by etaoin at 12:42 PM on June 5, 2009


Saying that you want your preferred party to pack the Court to achieve your policy goals is an incongruous and damaging position.
posted by dios


"Now that there's a Democrat in the White House, judicial appointments should not be subject to a litmus test."

"Do you think that former President Bush had a litmus test?"

"No, of course not."

*has stroke from concealing unstoppable giggles*
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:44 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way, if the Republicans had really had their way, the current Chief Justice would be an emotionally abused ten year-old boy with a lifetime supply of Super Soldier serum.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:46 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, do used silverware and drinking cups, cigarette butts, saliva on pillows, strands of hair, or other human detritus that would be easily obtained from someone's home contain the necessary DNA information for the test that was needed?
posted by Nonce at 11:12 AM on June 5 [+] [!]


I was wondering that myself as I read the post. I found this.

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice

National Institute of Justice
Research in Action
Jeremy Travis, Director

The Unrealized Potential of DNA Testing

by Victor Walter Weedn and John W. Hicks

"Saliva, skin cells, bone, teeth, tissue, urine, feces, and a host of other biological specimens, all of which may be found at crime scenes, are also sources of DNA. Saliva may be found in chewing gum and on cigarette butts, envelopes, and possibly drinking cups."


So it seems that if law enforcement were just patient, sneaky, or willing to deal with human excrement they would have an easier time of acquiring DNA samples which, in my opinion would render the amount of force they used unreasonable.

pssst Nonce, here you go
posted by vapidave at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2009


I don't even say 'hi' to cops because the consequences of a misunderstanding are just too great.
Poster idea: WARNING: LOCAL POLICE ARE ARMED AND DANGEROUS!


I live in Oakland where the Oscar Grant riots happened a few months ago. A neighborhood screen printing shop has been pasting up posters with the murderer cop's mugshot that say "RIOTS WORK".
posted by bradbane at 1:07 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


So someone tell me this: if you have a warrant to get the DNA, and you are able to take the suspect into custody, what is stopping you from simply putting him in a cell, holding him there until he falls asleep, getting the sample, then letting him go? I can't think of a better non-lethal way to subdue a reluctant subject than simply waiting for him to subdue himself.

of course, by the same token I could probably argue that life without possibility of parole is simply a non-violent way to apply the death penalty; ie simply waiting for the subject to die on his or her own.

Also:

Elmore demonstrates an important point. If the possibility of abuse exists, then you can be sure it will be taken advantage of.

I am certain -- without any doubt whatsoever -- that this is the point Elmore was attempting to illustrate, beautifully and succinctly, at the start of this thread. Well done.
posted by davejay at 1:11 PM on June 5, 2009


I can't wait till some clever kid invents a device that somehow disrupts the taser's signal the moment it hits you. Maybe something in the clothing or a localized EMP burst set to exactly the taser units chipset or something, and they get mass-produced and sold at flea-markets for like $5 each.

Because the first time a cop tried to use it on someone for compliance and it didn't work, well, that would make for a damn interesting video.

Because I bet the cops next choice would be something a lot more violent than the situation warranted. When you have a tool that commands instant compliance, and you lose it, I can't imagine you are going to react all that well.
posted by quin at 1:13 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


So it seems that if law enforcement were just patient, sneaky, or willing to deal with human excrement they would have an easier time of acquiring DNA samples which, in my opinion would render the amount of force they used unreasonable.

I think the issue is getting a good sample. It may be possible to pick up DNA from a drinking glass or old chewing gum, but the likelihood of contamination goes up pretty significantly.
posted by electroboy at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2009


How is this different morally or legally from beating the guy with a rubber hose? As far as I can tell it's perfectly parallel— it's primarily to inflict pain, it's unlikely (but possible) for it to cause further injury, etc. I'm pretty sure it's still considered inappropriate for police to tie up and then beat prisoners until they agree to coöperate, but I may be behind the times.
posted by hattifattener at 1:26 PM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


So it seems that if law enforcement were just patient, sneaky, or willing to deal with human excrement they would have an easier time of acquiring DNA samples which, in my opinion would render the amount of force they used unreasonable.

The Straight Dope is a great source for this kind of story, eg. the cops waiting in a fast food place to seize a discarded drinking cup of a person of interest for DNA match testing.

Another interesting legal line is screening of bodily samples not for identity but for evidence of law breaking, eg. drug use. In this case I think this would violate the 4th Amendment -- our identities are not private but I think our activities should be -- so without probable cause this would be a (literally) unwarranted invasion of privacy, similar to the SCOTUS case throwing out evidence of abnormal IR heat signatures on the outside of a home.
posted by @troy at 1:30 PM on June 5, 2009


I can't wait till some clever kid invents a device that somehow disrupts the taser's signal the moment it hits you. Maybe something in the clothing or a localized EMP burst set to exactly the taser units chipset or something, and they get mass-produced and sold at flea-markets for like $5 each.

There is fabric with a layer of metal in it that does exactly this, only it's not available to anyone but the police and military.
posted by odinsdream at 1:34 PM on June 5, 2009


This is pretty awesome! I think it should be applied in every instance where a court order is being ignored.
  • Failure to pay child support = TASE
  • Decide to ignore [p]alimony judgment = TASE-o-RAMA
  • Stonewalling corporation not complying with discovery requests = TASE the whole legal staff and maybe the CEO too
Why stop here though? Everyone should just carry their own tasers and mete out justice or coerce compliance as necessary. After all, it's non-lethal and the most expedient means in my professional opinion.
  • Cut in front of me in line = TASE
  • Take my parking place = TASE
  • Take up two parking places = DOUBLE TASE
  • Tase me? = TASE you, douchebag!
This needs to happen TODAY!

Jesus wept
posted by Fezboy! at 2:03 PM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


I have another idea! when a taser is fired, it should tase the shooter as well as the target. If you really are in a situation where disabling force, or instant and absolute compliance, is required, you should fire your taser and lose the use of your hand for 5 minutes.
posted by Fraxas at 2:06 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My local paper today claimed that our RCMP's testing found that 80% of them were not to manufacturer's spec, but I'm finding that rather difficult to believe. Maybe they mean 20% of them failed to meet spec. That'd account for the 10% over, as well as a mirror 10% that are under.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:08 PM on June 5, 2009


Talking on a cell phone in high school? That's a tasing!
posted by ryoshu at 2:26 PM on June 5, 2009


They are non-lethal. That makes them great in my mind.

It is great if taser use is applied in what would otherwise be shoot-to-kill situations. However when it is applied in anything less than that, as it clearly has been WILLY FUCKING NILLY it is not so great in my mind.
posted by scarabic at 2:32 PM on June 5, 2009


Talking on a cell phone in high school? That's a tasing!
posted by ryoshu at 4:26 PM on June 5


Talking on a cell phone? You sure? Or is it that resisting school authorities and pushing them gets you a tasing?

I don't support what happened in that instance, but it would be great if you accurately represent the reason for the action. 9 times out of 10 these kind of things are intentionally misleading and obfuscated to make the offending conduct be the most benign thing as possible.
posted by dios at 2:35 PM on June 5, 2009


hurrah! The thread is now "voice of reason" compliant.
posted by Artw at 2:36 PM on June 5, 2009


Or is it that resisting school authorities and pushing them gets you a tasing?

The 16 year old with the broken back was disobeying a lawful order, so who knows? A kid with a broken back surely needs to be tased in order to be subdued.

It's a pattern at this point.
posted by ryoshu at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2009


The 16 year old with the broken back was disobeying a lawful order, so who knows? A kid with a broken back surely needs to be tased in order to be subdued.
posted by ryoshu at 4:44 PM on June 5


Look, there are plenty enough ripe grounds to be critical of police abuse and taser abuse. If you want to make that case, then make it on its own terms. There is no need to make misleading arguments to make your case.

The kid who on the phone got tased because he pushed a police officer, not because he was on the phone as you suggested. Likewise the kid with the broken back was not tased because he had a broken back; that was an attendant fact, not the reason.

Do you agree that representing the stories that way is intentionally misleading? If so, then why do it to make your case?

As a counterpoint, this post presents a clearly inappropriate use of the taser, but does by accurately representing what occurred. Bully for the post that it did not engage in the same tactics and say "Guy tased for sitting on a police floor in handcuffs."
posted by dios at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2009


Using all caps for emphasis? That's a tasin'.
posted by electroboy at 3:00 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman: And on the other side – do they have a right to kill my animals with impunity in the course of a search?

Looks like it.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:02 PM on June 5, 2009


The kid who on the phone got tased because he pushed a police officer, not because he was on the phone as you suggested.

Fair enough. The officer felt his safety was threatened enough that he deployed less-lethal force to subdue the high school student. Push an officer? That's a tasing.

Likewise the kid with the broken back was not tased because he had a broken back; that was an attendant fact, not the reason.

I cleared that up in my second post on the story. The 16 year old was not being sufficiently compliant so the officers deployed less lethal force to make him more compliant. 19 times. How much more compliant they wanted a kid with a broken back and foot to be is unsure, but he clearly wasn't respecting their authority. Don't move quickly enough to obey the police because you just fell off a 30 foot tall overpass and broke your back and foot? That's a tasing.

Better?
posted by ryoshu at 3:04 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree that further sensationalizing the cell phone story doesn't really help matters. The situation is ridiculous and unacceptable already. Calling the use of a taser by a police officer on the 6th grader who pushed him "defending himself" seems just as misleading to me.

If a cop feels like his safety is put in jeopardy by an unarmed 6th grader, then I would hope he isn't a cop for long.
posted by ODiV at 3:06 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is fabric with a layer of metal in it that does exactly this, only it's not available to anyone but the police and military.

*Dons wetsuit, then chainmail, then handsome hawaiian print*

Technology is aiding and abetting authoritarianism in ways that were really unexpected, by the naive anyway, in which group I suppose I should include myself. I don't find this taser business good at all.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:06 PM on June 5, 2009


>: Technology is aiding and abetting authoritarianism in ways that were really unexpected, by the naive anyway, in which group I suppose I should include myself.

I'm not surprised, but I'm sure as hell depressed over it. Don't even get me started on surveillance.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:12 PM on June 5, 2009


Or what, I come home and find my dogs dead?

Yeah, pretty much.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2009


Oops, Rock Steady beat me to it. Work and work. Damn this work business.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:15 PM on June 5, 2009


"The kid refused to listen," Chief Burton said. "The officer took him by the arm and said, 'You have to go to the office.' The student resisted, pushed the officer. The officer, defending himself, took out his stun gun and did a drive stun."

So we're looking at, what, a lone 73 year old school resource officer or what? I see no circumstances under which that should be a permissible use of force against a minor. The chief even uses the word 'kid.' He couldn't collect some security, a dean, someone, as back up?
Speaking on a phone constitutes a major threat to the school?
Even were tasers perfect in every way, over reliance on a single piece of technology still eliminates a great deal of basic, common sense thinking or development of mindset and technique.
This just illustrates another instance as its use as a method of compliance rather than self-defense.
It's even worse given the officer in question had the best of intentions. He's been placed in a position where there's an expectation that he can - or should - initiate instant compliance. And he's given this tool which apparently releases him from the burden of patience, circumspection, or adequacy in physical agility.
Ridiculous.
To be fair though this particular news story is terrible, so really, who knows wtf happened.

"Are the police justified in using force to get me to open the safe?"
Sure. But use the force on the safe. Get a locksmith. Barring that, a drill. But that question (not by your intent, or flaw of your own, of course) is indicative of the general mindset of getting someone to do something rather than achieving the goal. Unfortunately it's fairly widespread. Often, and I see this whenever confrontation is on t.v., there's this need for righteousness rather than just, say, dropping someone. Five guys pointing guns saying "get down! get down! get down! get down!" instead of one guy pointing a gun and four guys sweeping someone's legs and placing them on the floor.
Good departments do this. Practice training as squads. Respond en masse to lower incident risk, etc. And no one on either side gets hurt. Other guys watch too much Walker Texas Ranger.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is fabric with a layer of metal in it that does exactly this, only it's not available to anyone but the police and military.

It's called an electric fencing lame, and you can buy them pretty much anywhere. A fencing jacket, which is normally worn underneath the lame, also contains an armored layer (kevlar I think) designed to resist puncture (eg against the event of a blade breaking and the sharp stub being driven in). Foil lames cover the torso only. Sabre lames are waist up and cover the arms as well.

I'm rather curious as to how well these things work against tasers - I don't suppose any of you are planning on getting yourselves tasered any time soon...?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2009


I remember a kid at my high school brought a Taser in one day (well, one of the handheld devices). He sat on the flip-n-fuck in the Student Lounge (what a pit of teenage despair and debauchery that place was) and just... tasered his balls for half an hour.
He had some substance problems.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:23 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was probably a stungun, and not a Taser. I was under the impression Tasers fire darts attached to wires at you, while a stungun has those two little contact points at the end of a plastic handle.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:32 PM on June 5, 2009


Ok, easy way around this. When tasers were introduced, they were promoted as a way that police could avoid using their firearms. So lets take away their pistols. Put them in a locked compartment in the police cruiser, so that if an armed response is needed, they can obtain a weapon, but make them write up a report every time they open the compartment. Second, put a little video camera on every taser. Every time the safety is switched off, the camera goes on, so everyone knows exactly what happened. Finally, police who lie to cover for fellow police should face conspiracy charges.

Who am I kidding. The cops are the only gang who can shoot people legally.

Reading all this makes me a.) want to own my own taser (did you know they can go through bullet proof vests?) and b.) sew some taser proof clothing. Right now they only sell that stuff to licensed officials. Of course, either of those would probably get me shot.
posted by Hactar at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something tells me that many of these 'voices of reason' have not had the pleasure of being subjected to random hassles and intimidation at the hands of some of the adrenalin-addicted thugs that are patrolling the streets in the U.S. each and every damned day. This situation is subject to change as things escalate further down the road.

There are three kinds of bastards that you are likely to encounter here in the states:

1 - your basic criminal who wants to take your shit (if any such shit you may have) at the point of a knife or gun.

2 - The errant sociopathic nutcase who has a really messed up relationship with reality and feels that hurting somebody for no reason than whatever twisted vision resides in his head is a reasonable way to pass some time.

3 - Your friendly neighborhood goon squad, the police.

Obviously there's going to be a great deal of overlap between those first two categories in terms of mental health issues, including habitual reliance on violent behavior. But what's more? there's also more than a little of 1 and 2 bleeding into 3. The state sanctioning of that third category of mean and stupid makes it no less dangerous and traumatic to encounter.

You don't have to be guilty of jack squat in order for these people to mess your shit up on a long term basis.
posted by metagnathous at 3:42 PM on June 5, 2009


Hactar: To my knowledge, police are already required to file a report if they unholster their weapon, and tasers (some models at least) already take a photograph of the scene when the trigger is pulled.

But these things can make no difference so long as even absurd abuse of tasers is routinely defended and rarely has consequences.

The thinking is that officers must feel free to use every tool at their disposal, without fear of being second-guessed by armchair critics who can end their careers, least an officer hesitate to act in circumstances where hesitation could be disastrous. But clearly, this thinking is resulting in abysmal police performance. I've encountered police forces so skilled and successful as to make a mockery of US police forces, so not only is improvement quite possible and genuinely realistic, vast improvement is quite plausible. This isn't just pie in the sky idealism. It's been done.

But I don't see it happening here.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:44 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


The thinking is that officers must feel free to use every tool at their disposal

The problem is more a lack of thinking when they choose a tool. Grade six kid won't go to the office. Not-thinking solution: taser the shit outta the little fucker. Thinking solution: call parents, have them remove their child from the school until such time as he cooperates. Worst case scenario, execute a safety hold, drop him to the floor without causing harm, and handcuff him. But, jeez, that'd be a pretty extreme action to take on a kid.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:04 PM on June 5, 2009


Grade six kid won't go to the office.

Small correction. The kid in 6th grade brought a gun to school. The kid that was tased was in high school. It was a poorly written article.
posted by ryoshu at 4:10 PM on June 5, 2009


Oh yeah, high school. Duh. Whoops.
posted by ODiV at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2009


"Speaking on a phone constitutes a major threat to the school?"
And to clarify - the officer grabbed the kids arm to take him to the office (apparently, lousy journalism). At what point did speaking on the phone become a police matter? Why do you need a cop to enforce a school policy?
Ok, maybe the kid is an uber-bad ass and they were expecting trouble. So then why not bring back up? Why give him even the opportunity to push or otherwise assault someone? And in this case it, what, just happened to be a police officer who was alone?
Nothing there adds up. Least of which is tasering a high school student. Who, what, is hale and hearty enough to threaten a police officer, but once tasered has to be hospitalized?

There's a difference between forcing compliance and use of force.

Similarly - what possible reason could there be to taser someone with a broken back? An even cursory physical engagement would reveal your opponent's extreme inferiority such that you might say "Gee, this guy fights like his back is broken."

I'd argue, as I have, that it's lawyerin' that's in part responsible for this (along with police budgeting that greatly favors equipment over training) and that the taser is the legislative response to excessive force lawsuits.

But (far as I know) there's no single accepted definition concerning appropriate means (in degree, I mean - beyond the physical, impact, chemical, electronic and firearm). And it often varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The bureau of justice statistics categorizes improper use of force into excessive and unnecessary. Excessive of course is more force than is required and unnecessary is where there's no justification for its use.

Using that dichotomy to think about tasers - is it excessive? No. It's not more force than is required. Is it unnecessary? Again, no, because there is justification for its use.
So the flaw is in not recognizing the misapplication of force in the kind and as classifying all force as equal.
Take a baton (tonfa). I can use it to strike, sure. But it's far more effective, insofar as subduing someone, when its used to grapple. Plenty of joint locks possible with it, etc.
So you have two different applications of force with two different degrees of efficiency in the same object.
Watching the Rodney King beating it was obvious to me that it was an improper use of force - beyond all the other elements of wrong that were there - because it's much better to use a baton to pin someone on the ground in that position, or lock their arm behind their back.
Doing damage is not a subduing technique.
Similarly - with the taser - no damage, but there's pain. If used properly, yes, it can be used as a component in subduing someone, but it does not, or should not, itself be used as a stand alone.
You can use it to gain an advantage over someone who's muscles have been momentarily paralyzed and their attention distracted.
But when it's not used for that, it is an attack, more or less, on the psyche. Which should be as unacceptable as the King beatings were. Since they're indicative of some of the same flaws, in behavior (brutality) but also in lack of proper training and misunderstanding the goal of physically subduing someone.
So, not too much force, not unjustified force, but misapplied force.

"Who am I kidding. The cops are the only gang who can shoot people legally."
Really? It's the same as Mara Salvatrucha knocking on your door?
I think the gangs get cut slack here because we all know they're bad. But I don't see the equivalency. This is not to say that police excesses aren't far more dangerous, they are. Democide was the leading cause of unnatural death (disease aside) last century. But tasering isn't like sawing people's hands off. And ostensibly there's some recourse.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whoops, mixed up the kids. Same diff, though. Cops need to start using their words again, instead of brutalizing everyone out of laziness.

At what point did speaking on the phone become a police matter?

You have the right to free silence. Written there in the Constitution, I'm pretty sure. Not the one they show you, the real one.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:21 PM on June 5, 2009


Democide! New word, to me! Thanks Smedleyman.

Not entirely comfy with the etymology, but what the hell, I'm no damn prescriptivist.
posted by mwhybark at 5:26 PM on June 5, 2009


In almost all taser cases that end up in the news it seems to come down to
a) laziness
or
b) sadism.

In the high school/cell phone case, it was just waaaaaaay easier to zap the kid than to deal with his bullshit attitude. No one likes to deal with a shitheel teenager. Who hasn't wanted to zap the attitude out of some little shitheel? But, still, professionalism demands otherwise. That cop needs his ass kicked.

In the broken back case, it was pure evil sadism. Tasering is pretty fucked-up shit at the best of times. Fucked-up enough that I'm pretty sure it can be used as a torture method. So zapping the living shit out of a guy nearly twenty times while his back is broken? I really, really would prefer that sick shit like that were kicked off the police force. In fact, those cops should probably be heading jailwise.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:34 PM on June 5, 2009


five fresh fish: Whoops, mixed up the kids. Same diff, though. Cops need to start using their words again, instead of brutalizing everyone out of laziness.

Well, I dunno... what if a kid like this one has you backed into a corner with no backup? You've gotta defend yourself somehow! It's either him or you!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:38 PM on June 5, 2009


The thinking is that officers must feel free to use every tool at their disposal

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Maybe this is essentially a marketing problem. Right now tasers induce pain, agony, seizures, unconsciousness, and so on, depending on the context and victim's constitution. But what if we rolled all those up into one concept and called it "Justice Tingles?" So instead of "I'm in such horrible pain!" the person could say "Thank you for administering my legally mandated dose of Justice Tingles! Wheee!"

And a Taser death should be called a Freedom Release -- because Tasers are by definition non-lethal and therefore cannot cause death. QED.
posted by milquetoast at 6:06 PM on June 5, 2009


I read the post as being about the abuse of taters. MeFi, what have you done to me?
posted by ooga_booga at 9:03 PM on June 5, 2009


The crowd you see

around that store

are police officers

tasing more

-Burma Tase
posted by clearly at 1:24 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Without a taser, they would have had no choice but to use deadly force. Clearly tasers are being used in the way they were designed.

You honestly believe that if they hadn't had a Taser available, that they would have shot him, then extracted his DNA?

Tasers are here and they probably aren't going anywhere. But there are legitimate questions about how they should be used. Are they alternatives to lethal force or are they "pain compliance devices." Given the numerous, publicized, stories of inadvertent death due to tasing, police need to have clearer and stricter guidelines as to when this is permissible.

Mental Health Units in hospitals have experience with handling people who have been involuntarily commited. I'm pretty sure that their procedures are not limited Tasers and lethal force.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:08 AM on June 6, 2009


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