LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The ACLU of Southern California has strongly urged Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to revise the department’s inadequate Taser policy in order to restrict and guide future use of these potentially lethal weapons.

In a 10-page letter to the sheriff released today, ACLU/SC Orange County Director Hector Villagra strongly recommended that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) limit the use of Tasers to situations where death or serious bodily injury is threatened – whether to a deputy, the public or a suspect. If the OCSD is unable to adopt such strict limitations on Taser use, Villagra noted, it should at least revise its policy to ensure safer, more effective and more accountable use of Tasers.

“The department’s current policy does not take into account the persistent and unresolved concerns about the safety of Tasers, or the rising death toll associated with their use,” Villagra said. “Until it is clear through independent and comprehensive research that Tasers don’t pose an unreasonable risk, a more prudent policy must be adopted.”

Nationally, 320 people have died since June 2001 after being shocked by Tasers. In Orange County, five people have died since 2005 after being stung with the weapons, including Jason Gomez, a 35-year-old father who died in April 2008 after turning himself into authorities.

In addition to urging limits on the use of Tasers, the ACLU/SC letter recommends the department prohibit multiple or prolonged shocks that can impair breathing, and ban the use of Tasers by more than one deputy on a single person.

The suggested revisions would amount to a significant rewriting of the OCSD’s current policy on Tasers, which in places is vague or refers only obliquely to potential problems. With little independent research available on assessing Tasers’ safety, and the manufacturers themselves warning of possible dangers, it’s crucial for the department develop a policy that ensures safe and effective use of these powerful weapons, Villagra noted.

Many of the recommendations are based on practices proposed by groups of law-enforcement experts, including the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). For example, PERF recommends that individuals who are shocked with a Taser receive medical monitoring. At least two municipal police departments also suggest that law-enforcement officers be required to check the response of a subject once a shock has been administered.

The Taser can be a deadly weapon, and as such, the ACLU/SC believes that deputies need to be held accountable when they use it. All data on the use of Tasers, including how many times a deputy triggered a weapon and what type of shock was used -- be it the dart or the Taser gun -- needs to be available for public scrutiny. The ACLU/SC believes OCSD supervisors should also be called out to the scene every time a Taser is used, to establish proper oversight.

“The ACLU/SC hopes that Sheriff Hutchens will adopt our recommendations not only for the safety of the public, but for the credibility of the department,” Villagra said.

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