Use of Force: TASERs Expert Article

The TASER™ is considered a less-than-lethal weapon for law enforcement, albeit in certain conditions it may have lethal consequences. In this article, police practices expert, Mark Meredith walks through an example scenario to explore the use of TASERs by law enforcement as it pertains to use of force disputes.

Use of Force: TASER Expert Witness Investigations

TASERs & Police Use of Force

TASER™ is a proprietary name commonly used to describe an entire group of self-defense devices that deliver an electric current at close range via propelled darts attached to thin wires. These thin wires are connected to a power source within the main device that delivers an electric current to temporarily incapacitate the target. The TASER can also be utilized in what is referred to as drive-stun mode.  This application involves pressing the TASER against a person’s body to achieve compliance.

When first introduced in the mid-1970s to American police departments, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) classified the TASER as a firearm because it used gunpower to propel the darts. BATF no longer classifies the TASER as a firearm because the design was updated in the 1990s to utilize nitrogen as a propellant.

Many police departments, and some security agencies, provide their officers with TASERs or alternate less-lethal options as standard issued equipment. Despite being less-lethal than conventional firearms, these devices can result in death or serious injury and their usage is sometimes subject to use-of-force disputes.

Evaluating Use of Force Claims

The Supreme Court established legal precedent for evaluating use of force by law enforcement in Graham v. Connor (1989), which established an objective reasonableness standard.

In other words, law enforcement officers may only use force that is objectively reasonable, based on the facts known to the officer at the time of the incident. The Graham case used a three-prong test to determine the reasonableness of a law enforcement officer’s force:

  1. The severity of the crime.
  2. Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others.
  3. Whether the suspect is actively resisting or attempting to evade arrest at the time.

While most law enforcement policies on the use of force and TASER echo the above three-prong test, some departments are more restrictive. More restrictive policies may include stipulations that TASERs can only be deployed on actively resisting subjects, subjects who commit a felony or serious misdemeanor, or should not be deployed on handcuffed subjects or passively resisting subjects.

The manufacturer of TASER also makes recommendations and issues warnings on the use of its product. For example, the target subject may become incapacitated, and injuries may occur because an incapacitated subject cannot break their fall.

Case Example: Law Enforcement Use of TASER

A police officer conducts a traffic stop on a vehicle for a minor traffic offense. The officer approached the vehicle’s driver, and the driver immediately became verbally abusive toward the officer. The officer asked the driver to exit the vehicle, and the driver continued to be verbally abusive toward the officer.

When the driver exited his vehicle, as directed by the officer, the officer deployed his TASER, and the probes/darts successfully made contact with the driver. The driver became incapacitated and fell to the ground, striking his head on the concrete.  This fall caused a serious head injury that required surgery.

Evaluating Law Enforcement Use of Force

Using the above information, an expert specializing in police practices would examine the following factors to determine the standard of care as it applies to the example scenario:

  1. The state’s law for officer’s use of force.
  2. The driver committed a minor traffic infraction.
  3. There is no indication the driver was an immediate threat to the officer.
  4. While the driver was being verbally abusive toward the officer, he was complying with his commands.
  5. Should the officer have known the use of the TASER could have caused the injury.
  6. Does the officer’s training or the department policy prohibit the use of the TASER in this situation.

In this situation, an unbiased expert would determine the officer’s use of his TASER did not meet the objectively reasonable standard for the use of force. As such, the officer’s use of force would be considered excessive. The officer must consider all known factors and his/her department policy prior to deploying his TASER on a subject. If the officer fails to do so, this may result in an excessive force claim.

TASER / Use of Force Expert Witness Investigations

Forensic investigations into law enforcement use of force will typically include an assessment of documentation related to and preceding the incident, including:

  • The police report
  • Body Worn Camera (BWC) footage and/or TASER cam footage
  • The officer's training records
  • The officer's discipline records
  • The police department's policy and procedure manual for use of force and the taser.
  • Taser Training recommendation

Our forensic experts are often tasked with reviewing the actions of police, forensic investigators, and security professionals.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Mark Meredith, Police Practices & Premises Security Expert

Mark Meredith

Police Practices & Premises Security Expert
Mark Meredith has a diverse background in law enforcement and security spanning more than 25 years. His expertise covers an array of issues including hiring and training practices, emergency… read more.

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