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Court Says Death Caused by Repeated Use of Police Taser is Excessive Force

A Tenth District Appellate Court decision this month has clarified and highlighted the need for police to exercise caution before relying too heavily on their police-issued tasers. Advocates of non-lethal force have for years moved to increase taser use in law enforcement as a potentially safer way to secure armed and unarmed suspects, thereby reducing officer fatalities and injuries while avoiding unnecessary injuries and deaths for those being arrested. And while, in many cases, non-lethal force can be useful, there are risks too. A recent case out of New Mexico underscores these dangers.

A Case of Excessive Force – Perea v. Baca

In 2011, the police responded to a 911 call to check on an unarmed mentally ill man who was allegedly high on “very bad drugs.” According to court documents, Jerry Perea was found pacing in his yard clutching a bible. He quickly got on his bicycle and began to ride away. At this point, the record was silent as to any commission of an actual crime, except possible use of drugs. Even that, however, was uncertain. Upon pursuing the suspect, the two police officers observed the man running a red light, which led them to corner him and apprehend him. Perea was unarmed but did struggle. Thus far, it is unlikely anyone would take issue with the police taking physical actions to stop the suspect. Sadly, the situation quickly got worse.

Upon exiting the patrol car, one officer used his taser in “probe” mode to subdue Perea. Over the next two minutes, however, he executed 9 more electric shocks in “stun” mode. This constituted a total of 10 surges of electricity to the man’s heart in less than two minutes. Perea died minutes after arriving at the hospital in custody.

What the court said about the tasering

As the Tenth District explained in its ruling, “even if Perea initially posed a threat to the officers, … the justification disappeared when [he] was under the officers’ control. It is not reasonable for an officer to repeatedly use a taser against a subdued arrestee they know to be mentally ill, whose crime is minor, and who poses no threat to the officers or others.”  To make matters even worse, the record indicated that during the entire pursuit and arrest, the officers never told Perea who they were or why they were pursuing him.

Non-lethal force can be lethal

In a 2015 interview with a former California public defender, Aram James related to New America Media that tasers are often most effective on unarmed suspects, which in turn means they are often far more “forceful” than necessary. In other words, as the interview discussed, tasers are not effective when a suspect is truly armed and dangerous; however, they are far outside the necessary and reasonable amount of force needed to subdue the ordinary suspect. Therefore, some officers can become overconfident, which leads to irresponsible use of these dangerous weapons. Perhaps this is because the majority of people who are subjected to police tasers are mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to a 2015 study by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of excessive force or police brutality, you need aggressive reputation by an attorney who will stand up for your rights. The experienced criminal defense attorneys of Simms Showers, LLP represent criminal defendants in Leesburg, Loudoun county and throughout northern Virginia.

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