Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Taser death in Laredo

When Tasers first came out they were billed as a non-lethal alternative to firearms.

In reality, both parts of that claim were false. People have died from Taser shocks, and far from being an "alternative" to firearms, most police Taser discharges occur in situations where shooting the suspect with a gun would not be justified under standard police policies. Today Taser has backed of the "non-lethal" claim and now markets the weapon as "less lethal," which is certainly a more accurate portrayal.

The latest Taser-caused death in Texas occurred Monday in Laredo, according to the Houston Chronicle:
Three Laredo police officers are on administrative duty pending investigation of the death of a man they shocked with a Taser gun.

Police spokesman Alberto Escobedo says the three officers answered a pre-dawn criminal mischief report Monday and confronted 44-year-old Richard Battistata. That's after the man allegedly had broken a bedroom window and entered an apartment.

Escobedo says that during the confrontation Battistata turned combative and one officer used the Taser to subdue him.

Instead, Battistata became unresponsive and police called an ambulance. He died soon after arriving at Doctors Hospital.

I generally support deployment of Tasers but I also think most departments' use of force policies allow them to be used WAAAAY too early on the so-called "use of force continuum." Tasers should never be used merely to force compliance with officer commands, particularly in a case like this where three officers were on hand to subdue the unarmed suspect. But from what I can tell, forcing compliance appears to be a primary way officers use the weapon in a large number of the reported incidents.

26 comments:

BB said...

Scott,

This is a tough one. Similar to the debate we experienced in TYC over physical versus chemical restraint in 2007. If one analyzes the statistics relative to custodial deaths, the data clearly indicates that many more people die or are injured subsequent to being physically restrained as compared to chemical force or taser deployment.

BB

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I would never want to be a cop. The cops did their job and unfortunately the man died. At the end of the day, if the man would not have broken the window, entered the apartment, and become combative with officers, he would not have been tased. Had they chose to physically restrain the man, and he would have died then, the officers would still be to blame. It is a lose/lose for the cops either way you look at it.

Just another example of liberals blaming law enforcement when law enforcment is clearly not to blame.

Anonymous said...

Running low on causes to complain about, Grits?

Roy said...

If a citizen tries to use a Taser on a cop, that's assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery, and attempted murder of a police officer.

I am so disgusted with cops, I'd like to try disarming them completely, letting them do their jobs with social skills alone. And fire the incompetents with prejudice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BB, I agree Tasers result in fewer deaths than some other tactics which is why I generally support their deployment. But there also have to be policies on their use and they shouldn't be used merely to gain compliance when there's no threat to the officers. Like, for example, in the case of the great grandmother tazed earlier this year.

8:56, "blaming law enforcement"? That's BS. As I said in the post, "I generally support deployment of Tasers." But it has to be possible to discuss public policy about new technologies and how they should be used without some idiot screaming "you just hate all cops." That kind of defensive attitude is counterproductive. In hospitals when somebody dies they do a "morbidity and mortality conference" to determine the causes and if anything could have been done to prevent it. IMO the same thing should happen after every in-custody death, but instead police tend to become defensive and circle the wagons instead of honestly question whether their tactics, even if used in good faith, could stand improvement in light of bad outcomes. That's all I'm suggesting here.

9:06, trust me, there's no shortage. I probably never get to 2/3 of the potential stories that come up.

Anonymous said...

Breaking a window should not be punished with death!

Police are trained to control the situation no matter what. The problem is you cannot train good judgment into someone that is too young, too inexperienced or too stupid to understand the consequences of their actions.

Anyone that has a taser should be given a lot of extra training in its use. Every use of a taser should be carefully evaluated in the same way the use of a gun by a police is to determin if it was appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Taze Grits.

Anonymous said...

"But there also have to be policies on their use and they shouldn't be used merely to gain compliance when there's no threat to the officers. Like, for example, in the case of the great grandmother tazed earlier this year."

Friend, there already are. It's covered in the Texas Penal Code under use of force and in federal law as section 1983 violations. It's called deliberate indifference. It's just a matter of whether a local Texas district attorney or the feds will prosecute criminally or if a plaintiff can prevail in a civil proceeding.

Anonymous said...

"Like, for example, in the case of the great grandmother tazed earlier this year."

The officer was not justified to use this amount of force because grandma was not engaged in any criminal activity, other than a Class C misdemeanor that was a violation of a law or ordinance regulating traffic at the time the force was used.

The problem is no prosecutor is going to accept a criminal complaint and as long as prosecutors maintain this mentality, officers have carte blanch criminal immunity to taze under any situation, including c misdemeanors.

The officer would have been terminated under my use of force policy.

Old Cop said...

Thanks Grits and amen... tasers are used too many times as a "pre-trial" punishment by some officers who want to make the perp who has pi_ _ ed them off "do the chicken". If the device is indeed "capable of causing serious bodily injury or death" then the officer better be justified in using the deadly force option set out in the penal code before deploying it. If a civilian would be prosecuted for using unwarranted force against an officer, the reverse should be true as well. Prosecute a few taser-happy clowns and we'll see tasers used more judiciously.

BorkBorkBork said...

In Texas, the killing of a person who is committing burglary of a habitation is authorized by law.

Richard Battistata chose to risk his life by committing this crime. His death was a foreseeable consequence of his behavior. This guy was 44 years old he knows better than to break into someone's home, especially at night. He got what he deserved.

BB said...

Scott,

Common sense and effective supervision also help to prevent cases like the tasing of the grandmother. Unfortunately there will always be that small percentage who for whatever reason lose their composure and abuse their authority. When addressing employee misconduct one usually prefers to deal with the causes and consequences of chemical restraint or taser abuse as opposed to physical abuse. A person is simply much more likely to be injured or even killed when a confrontation escaltes into a physical struggle.

Disregard the uncivilized comments. You are doing a great job and I look forward to visiting your site every day. This type of commentary is only a distraction.

BB

Anonymous said...

I read an interesting article on a subject called "de-policing" by law enforcement. I cannot recall the name of the periodical but it essentially described a sense of denial of service due to a variety of reasons (fear of agency reprisal, civil liability, etc.). This may be a growing trend in that just about any police action these days seems to draw vehement criticism followed by administrative or civil/criminal sanctions. The post by anonymous 08:56 reminded me of this concept.

doran said...

BorkBorkBork: Where did you get the idea that the tazered Decedent was committing a burglary?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:41, I've not heard the term de-policing but MANY times I've heard police union folks say if this or that reform is passed cops will quit doing their jobs and just draw a paycheck for doing nothing. The best example was hype and rhetoric around Texas' racial profiling law. We were told if data was gathered on traffic stops and cameras were put in police cars, it would be "Big Brother," cops wouldn't write tickets, the sky would fall, etc..

In reality, the vast majority of cops have integrity and will do their jobs following whatever rules are set, just like Old Cop at 11:57. Sure, there are always a few who are looking for an excuse not to do their jobs anyway, but they're relatively few and far between and I see no reason to pander to that tiny subset. For the most part, it's a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

You're wasting your time. Grits has no sympathy for someone whose house is being broken into and whose life is threatened. All his concern is for the poor "victim" who was caught in the house and arrested and whose rights are being violated by mean ole law enforcement (you know those who are always wrong). He probably didn't do it anyway because he is innocent and was framed in the lineup or the dog had it in for him. You can't believe them witnesses - they just imagine stuff.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:54, perhaps you'd like some cheese with that whine?

Anonymous said...

Isn't everyone leaping to the conclusion that the Taser caused the death? All that is know for sure is that the suspect was Tased during the incident and the man died. What does the Medical Examiner have to say about the death. Was an autopsy event preformed.
The cause of death is speculation at this point.

Mark #1 said...

BorkBorkBork: I hope you don't let facts ever get in the way of your trolling. . .And I hope like hell you're not a lawyer.

BorkBorkBork said...

Start here and choose Penal Code then choose Chapter 9 which is entitled JUSTIFICATION EXCLUDING CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY. You'll see that, by law, killing a burglar, robber, or thief in the night is justified and therefore such a killing is not murder in Texas.

Anonymous said...

Bork..

What law school did you attend?

David Z said...

@BorkBorkBork

You might try re-reading the TX penal code.

PROTECTION OF ONE'S OWN PROPERTY, is a necessary condition for the exclusion of criminal responsibility under such circumstances. The standards are different for third parties, as set forth in Sec. 9.43 and different still for law enforcement officers, as established in Sec. 9.51

if you're in law school, you might want to ask for your money back.

BorkBorkBork said...

David Z: You might try re-reading my original posting. Notice I didn't say anything about police officers.

Mr. Battistata put himself in a position to be justifiably killed. When assessing the risks of committing burglary it is not unreasonable to assume that a confrontation with a resident or neighbor is actually more likely than a confrontation with police. That he was ultimately killed by the latter rather than the former is a coincident incidental to his choice to put himself in the position to be justifiably killed.

David Z you are correct that police are held to a different standard. Briefly stated, the police must have a reasonable belief that the subject has either already attempted to use deadly force or is about to engage in action that may cause someone serious bodily injury.

This is great on paper because, unlike the average citizen, police are trained to quickly make life or death decisions in dangerous situations. In reality however, the policeman says these magic words "he made a quick move toward his waistband so I thought he had a gun and was about to kill me." If that type of case ever makes it to the grand jury it's all but guaranteed a no bill when those magic words are spoken, even if the dead guy turned out to be unarmed.

doran said...

Bork, ol' man. Where are the facts indicating a burglary by the decedent, or, at the very least, a burglary in progress? This decedent was in custody, fer chrissake!

This is so much like the situation with Prof. Gates. Would you have justified Gates being shot by that officer involved with him?

Villager said...

I agree with your conclusion. The issue is not that tasers are part of the police arsenal. The issue is that tasers are still treated by most police offices in their use of force continuum as a non-lethal weapon similar to a nightstick/baton.

Battistata was the 36th person killed by police this year in taser-related incidents [NOTE: 5 of them in Texas].

That is almost one per week. That ain't non-lethal in my view...

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