Taser Limits Demanded by Ninth Circuit Court

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Tasers should be used only when a suspect poses an immediate threat to a police officer or the public.

The gun-like weapons, sold by a Scottsdale company, deliver an immobilizing, painful dose of electricty that's supposed to be non-lethal. Most of the time, the crime suspect suffers no lasting affects, and use of Tasers by police seems to have reduced the number of injuries reported by cops and arrestees -- if not prevented some bad guys from being perforated by plain-old bullets. Still, we don't believe claims that the occasional cardiac arrest of some crime suspects following a good Tasing is mere coincidence. Without admitting any responsibility, Taser recently advised police agencies that use its products to avoid jolting people in the chest.

As far as we can tell, the ruling, (see below), doesn't appear likely to force any major changes on Phoenix police or other local agencies. But, if the ruling is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, it may cause cops to re-evaluate -- once again -- how and when they should force folks to ride the lightning.

As New Times reported in 2007, Phoenix police policy allows cops to use the stun gun on anyone acting aggressively toward an officer or another person. That seems to be in line with the Ninth Court's wishes. But on the street, cops often have to make split-second decisions about someone's intentions. In the case cited by the Court of Appeals, a California officer zapped a babbling motorist who allegedly took a step toward him and failed to obey a command to stay in his car. Was that person a threat? No, says the Ninth Circuit Court. Naturally, the officer defending himself in a lawsuit disagrees.

The victim in this case, after being shot with the company's X-26 model, broke four teeth when he fell. He'd been stopped for not wearing a seat belt.
Click here for the ruling.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.