ACLU Charges Unnecessary Force and Torture in Letter Summarizing Complaints about Colorado Law Enforcement Agencies Abusing Tasers and Stun Guns
March 16, 2004
Colorado law enforcement agencies have been using electroshock weapons in an abusive and cruel manner that constitutes unnecessary and unreasonable force and in some cases amounts to outright deliberate torture, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein asserted in a letter sent yesterday to the Denver Mayor's Task Force on Police.
The letter summarizes complaints and letters received by the ACLU — many of which are corroborated by police reports – that document the use of the excruciatingly painful tasers and stun guns on suspects who had already been subdued and handcuffed or otherwise restrained. They include the following:
- A man was shocked in the genitals by an electroshock weapon while he was handcuffed and seated in the back of a squad car. The police report confirms that the officer carried out what he called "a drive stun to the groin area."
- A woman six-and-one-half months pregnant was tased in the abdomen while she was handcuffed and seated in the back of a squad car.
- A county jail prisoner was shocked twice with a stun gun while he was handcuffed to a wall in the booking room. The officer's report explains that the prisoner was "mouthing off."
- Police responded to a call of a possible overdose and took an apparently intoxicated and possibly suicidal subject to a hospital. Hospital personnel put him in soft restraints on a hospital bed. When the subject failed to follow police orders to shut up, the police report states that police responded by shocking him with a taser.
- The author of a letter to the ACLU accuses police officers of laughing as they tased him repeatedly while he was handcuffed in a squad car, to extort his "consent" to take a drug test, which turned out negative. He further asserts that officers tased him again after covering his head with a pillow. In their reports, the police officers confirm that they covered the man's head with a pillowcase. They also confirm that they tased the highly intoxicated suspect at least 8 times while he was handcuffed.
- A county jail prisoner was strapped into a restraint chair for 3 hours for yelling and mouthing off. Officers periodically approached the prisoner, held a stun gun to his chest, and threatened to shock him. The prisoner has an enlarged heart and may be particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from electroshock weapons.
"When a subject is already handcuffed or is otherwise restrained and poses no physical threat to an officer or anyone else, a 50,000 volt shock constitutes abusive, excessive, and unreasonable force," Silverstein said in the letter. "Indeed, in some cases it amounts to deliberate torture. Law enforcement policies should ensure that such practices are prohibited and sanctioned severely."
Even when the written policy of a law enforcement agency forbids such abusive use of electroshock weapons, the ACLU noted, law enforcement agencies must ensure that officers responsible for such conduct quickly identified, sanctioned, or otherwise held accountable. For the sake of police-community relations, the letter continued, the mechanisms for police accountability "must be sufficiently credible, effective, and transparent so that the public has confidence that abuses will detected, corrected, and, if necessary, sanctioned."