On May 10, 2011, 43-year old Allen Kephart died after having a Taser applied to him multiple times by three San Bernardino, California, sheriff’s deputies during a routine traffic stop in Lake Arrowhead.
“I feel that my son was murdered, I feel that something has to be done about law enforcement,” says Alfred Kephart, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court, August 30, 2011.
High profile police related deaths like Allen Kepharts’ are pushing activists, families and courts to question whether Tasers or officers are to blame, but the answer to that question is a tricky one.
Numerous studies and reviews from the National Institute of Justice, Amnesty International and the Police Executive Research Forum have come to different conclusions on Tasers and how officers use them. A study in the American Heart Journal even revealed that studies funded by Taser International were “substantially more likely to conclude Tasers are safe.”
Former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson says that when it comes to Tasers, safety depends on the circumstances in the case.
“We can remember back to the Rodney King case and in fact they did try to use a Taser there and it didn’t work, where we had police using so much force, it was almost lethal,” says Levenson. She points out that often questions of force from officers using Tasers come up after minor traffic violations.
According to Peter Bebring , staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, that is because when police are led to believe Tasers can’t cause harm, they “are more likely to use them in circumstances where they would never consider using more serious force, like a gun.”
Those types of circumstances led the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in October 2011, to look at more incidents involving Tasers and policing, one being the Tasing of a woman eight months into her pregnancy. The court found that when police use a stun gun it may be a violation of Constitutional law.
In the year 2000, around 5,000 law enforcement, correctional and military agencies were using Tasers, by 2011, that number climbed to 16,000.
About 6:33 minutes.
Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Associate producer is Tracy Oppenheimer.
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