County Police to Update Policy for Using Tasers

County Police to Update Policy for Using Tasers

Move comes after report was published detailing deadly incidents involving county police

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Montgomery County police Chief Tom Manger said his department is reviewing its policy surrounding the use of Tasers after a Baltimore Sun report documented deadly incidents involving county officers in recent years.

The department began reviewing the Taser policy March 22—three days after the Sun published its lengthy investigative report about police officers not following Taser safety recommendations, according to a County Council memo. The news report included three accounts of county police using the devices on men who died shortly after the incidents. The department’s review became part of its ongoing review of use of force guidelines that began in the fall of 2015.

Manger, who appeared with other county police leaders at a council committee meeting Thursday, said officers’ use of Tasers has dropped significantly since 2013, when officers deployed the weapons 148 times. In 2014 the number of uses dropped to 63, then 59 in 2015, according to police statistics.

Police are also in the process of purchasing new Tasers with enhanced safety mechanisms. The devices shoot two prongs at individuals and deliver an electric shock, often incapacitating them. Assistant Chief Luther Reynolds said the department has 540 Tasers in use and 340 of them are older models. The other 200 are newer models that include a safety feature that cuts off the electrical current and begins beeping after five seconds of use. Reynolds said the department plans to shift its entire inventory to the newer model.

The police officials at the meeting said the new model’s beeping alert can help officers, who often deploy Tasers in chaotic situations, to realize how long they have been using the device on a person.

Reynolds said the department plans to complete its use of force policy update in the next month or so and then will review it with the county police union. The policy will go into effect after the union addresses any issues that may impact its collective bargaining agreement. Reynolds said that process could take less than a month if there are no union issues and longer if there are disagreements.

Taser, the maker of the eponymous devices, recommends officers employing the device not shock individuals for longer than 15 seconds, but those recommendations have not always been followed by officers attempting to subdue individuals.

In a 2013 incident detailed by the Sun, county officers tased Anthony Howard nine times for a total of 37 seconds while attempting to take him into custody in Gaithersburg. Howard, who was acting erratically and high on cocaine at the time, died shortly afterwards. A video obtained by the newspaper showed Howard standing still, holding a children’s scooter before being tased. Police were attempting to take him into custody after his erratic behavior led them to believe he may be a danger to bystanders, according to the report.

In October 2012, a county officer used the “drive-stun” mode on a Taser, which causes pain, to shock Silver Spring resident Karreem Ali, who officers said was not cooperating at the time. The Taser’s data chip recorded that the officer stunned Ali 16 times, for a total of 108 seconds, according to the Sun report, which noted that Ali was battling mental health issues. Ali died four days later and in 2014 the county settled a lawsuit brought by Ali’s family for $450,000, but admitted no wrongdoing.

In a third incident, police used a Taser for a total of 37 seconds on 40-year-old Delric East after East crashed his vehicle on Columbia Pike in Silver Spring in June 2011. East, who police said was resisting officers and acting erratically, died while being transported to a hospital, but a medical examiner later ruled East died of PCP and alcohol intoxication, according to the Sun.

Manger did not directly address the incidents raised in the Sun report at the committee meeting, but he said more than 99 percent of the cases in which officers deployed Tasers “ended with no lasting injury to the police officer or person taken into custody.”

Since Tasers were first introduced to the county police force in 2002, officers have come to understand that the weapons can be lethal, he said. They’re now classified as “less than lethal” rather than “nonlethal.”

He also noted the use of the devices could possibly help prevent situations such as last year’s incident in New York City in which multiple officers attempted to subdue a man named Eric Garner, who died after one of the officers put him in a chokehold. Garner’s death made national news because it occurred in the wake of other highly publicized incidents concerning police use of force.

Manger also said county officers will be equipped with body cameras over the next few months, providing footage he said will help bring context to use of force situations.

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