Australia police say graphic video of man shocked 13 times shows unacceptable misuse of Tasers

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Australia police say 13 Taser shocks were too much

SYDNEY — Police say a graphic video of an unarmed man who was zapped with a Taser 13 times shows an unacceptable misuse of stun guns, as questions are raised about how much the devices are used in Australia.

Western Australia state police said the 2008 case was not typical of Taser use by the force, and state Premier Colin Barnett demanded a review of Taser guidelines.

A day after the video was released, a man died in Sydney after police stunned him in the chest with a Taser.

Closed-circuit video footage of the Western Australia case was released publicly Monday when the state’s crime commission introduced a report to state parliament that cited it as an example of police officers wrongfully using a stun gun.

In the video, an unarmed, dark-skinned man who refused to undergo a strip search in a Perth detention facility is shown screaming in apparent agony after being zapped with a stun gun eight times while surrounded by nine police officers. He was stunned another five times off-camera.

The commission’s report said the previous actions of the man, who was not identified, indicated he was likely suffering from a mental illness and/or was affected by drugs. It did not say why the man was in police custody.

After an internal police inquiry, two senior constables were fined 1,200 Australian dollars ($1,148) and AU$750 for using excessive force.

The crime commission’s report says Tasers are increasingly being used to force alleged offenders to comply with orders. The report recommends that stun guns only be used when there is an imminent threat of serious injury.

The report also said Aboriginal people were more likely to have a Taser used against them in Western Australia than non-Aboriginal people. It said interaction between Aborigines and police in the state was disproportionate compared to other groups, adding that there were complex reasons for this. It did not go into the reasons.

Barnett said he watched the video on Monday and thought the nine officers could have restrained the man in a less extreme way.

“It was excessive use of a Taser that could not be justified,” he said. “I think anyone seeing that footage would find it totally unacceptable.”

Western Australia Acting Police Commissioner Chris Dawson agreed the actions were uncalled for.

“It was wrong, it’s unacceptable, it was alarming when I looked at it and it’ll be alarming when the public view it,” Dawson said.

In New South Wales, meanwhile, officials were under fire following the death of a suspect who had been stunned with a Taser late Monday night.

Police said the man was armed with two knives and attempting to break into a Sydney house when officers arrived. The man lost consciousness shortly after being stunned and died Tuesday at a hospital. A coroner will determine the cause of death.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione defended the officers’ actions.

“In a split second, the officers made a decision, which I believe, may have saved their lives,” he said Tuesday. “Had (the officer) not been successful, I certainly believe the consequences could have been tragic for one or both of the officers involved.”

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