The Los Angeles Police Department will consider whether its stun guns should be modified to prevent repeated firings of the devices after an officer shocked a man with one six times in less than a minute during a traffic stop earlier this month, with the man dying in a hospital hours later.
Chief Michel Moore in Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting told commissioners he was looking in to whether LAPD could outfit its Tasers with technology that would limit the number of times an officer could fire the weapon.
Moore said the department would reach out to Axon Enterprise, the Phoenix-based manufacturer of LAPD’s Taser devices, to see whether “a stoppage” could be activated after the first pull of the device’s trigger, “where the device would no longer continue to activate for a one-minute or a two-minute buffer.”
Moore said the death of 31-year-old Keenan Anderson on Jan. 3 and the subsequent questions over LAPD’s Taser use “merit consideration of working with the manufacturer to consider establishing a limit.”
Anderson died after the encounter with LAPD officers, who spotted him running through traffic following the crash at Venice and Lincoln boulevards.
Anderson was not armed and appeared to be in distress, but continued to run from officers until three of them pinned him to the ground. As they tried to turn him over, Anderson resisted — that’s when one officer pulled out his Taser and threatened to use it on him.
Moments later, the officer shot Anderson with the Taser once, activating the charge on the device twice from a distance. The officer then placed the Taser directly on Anderson’s clothed back, “dry” stunning him with the device four more times, all in 42 seconds.
Anderson’s cause of death has not been determined. Moore also said LAPD did not know yet how many times the Taser shocked Anderson, though the man clearly yelped in pain after at least one of the uses.
Anderson’s death led to renewed criticism of LAPD from activists and questions over the department’s policies for how officers can use their stun guns.
Family of Anderson filed a claim against the city on Jan. 20 over his death. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.
The Taser works by firing two prongs attached to wires that, once embedded in a person, can send an electric shock to subdue them.
The devices are subject to LAPD’s rules for de-escalating an encounter with a belligerent person: Tasers “shall not be used for a suspect or subject who is passively resisting or merely failing to comply with commands,” the department policy reads.
“Verbal threats of violence or mere non-compliance by a suspect do not alone justify the use of Less-Lethal force,” the department wrote.
LAPD’s policy states officers should “avoid repeated…applications (of the Taser) where practicable to avoid possible injury.”
Despite those rules, nothing in LAPD’s policy specifically limits the number of times an officer can shock someone with a Taser.
Over the years, police departments around the country have grappled with how to use Tasers, which despite gaining “less lethal” branding are still a risk for causing cardiac arrest in a person being shocked with one, according to studies of the devices.
Commissioners on Tuesday asked LAPD’s inspector general to study how the department has been using Tasers over the years. Inspector General Mark Smith said there had been no recent study of the devices.
“It has been a number of years,” he told the commission. “In my opinion it certainly is ripe for a deeper look.”
Sounding unconvinced that a technology update would solve the problem, Commissioner Dale Bonner said he wanted to look at other issues with LAPD’s Taser policy that may have led to Anderson’s death.
Bonner compared the encounter with Anderson to one a few days later between Memphis police and 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, whose family says he was savagely beaten during a traffic stop, then died in a hospital.
Bonner said he was concerned that no officer in the Memphis stop appeared to think they should intervene in the beating of Nichols. He asked LAPD to review its use of force policy again in light of the recent deaths.
“That young man was essentially beaten to death by the five police officers,” he said.
“In the case we’re talking about, multiple uses of the Taser to contain that or control that situation, I’m concerned about the human element,” he said. “The herd mentality, the pack mentality … you have groups of people engaged in a highly charged action that sometimes, that dynamic takes on a life of its own.”
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