Update on Police, Tasers & Teenagers

Taser photo II

In August, 2013, a Miami Beach police officer caught Israel Hernandez-Llach spray-painting a shuttered McDonald’s on North Beach.  After a brief foot chase, Miami Beach Officer Jorge Mercado shot Herandez-Llach with his department-issued Taser.  The teen later died at Mount Sinai Medical Center.  After a six-month-long medical examination, medical examiners stated Hernandez-Llach died of heart failure from the “energy device discharge.”  This finding is unusual because the device has never been cited in an official cause of a death report in Florida.  Instead, most of the local Taser-related deaths have been ruled as cases of “excited delirium,” a rare brain malfunction often caused by cocaine or mental illness that said to transform victims into violent, feverish attackers.

Medical investigators conducted extensive toxicology exams and tests at the University of Miami’s Brain Bank to explore whether Hernandez-Llach had experienced excited delirium.  The teen’s body temperature was over 102 degrees more than an hour after he was pronounced dead, which can be a sign of delirium.  However, Hernandez-Llach was not enraged during the brief foot pursuit with police and his toxicology report did not find any drugs other than marijuana.

Medical examiners rarely list a stun gun as contributing to a death because Arizona-based Taser International has been aggressive in suing medical examiners that do cite the brand.  In 2008, Taser successfully removed the stun gun as a cause of death in three cases.  In Hernandez-Llach’s case, Miami-Dade’s medical examiner did not specifically cite the Taser brand, and instead referred to a “conducted electronic device discharge.”

Taser has previously suggested officers avoid shooting suspects in the chest because of the risk of cardiac arrest in some people.  Further, in 2012, a small study in an American Heart Association publication found that the weapon can cause heart failure in some healthy people.  Unfortunately for Hernandez-Llach, this suggestion was not heeded.  Additionally, since February 5th, three more Miami-Dade men have died after being tasered by police.

Read more here:  http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/06/3978777/teen-shot-by-miami-beach-police.html

Police, Tasers & Teenagers

Policeman with taser

Police use Tasers as a non-lethal alternative to firearms.  However, Tasers used against teenagers often result in permanent injury or death.  In 2012, the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International reported that Taser devices used by U.S. law enforcement has killed at least 500 people.  In November 2013, a Texas high school student suffered a severe brain injury after a Texas sheriff’s deputy tasered him while the teen was trying to break up a fight in a school hallway.  After being tasered, Noe Nino de Rivera struck his head on the floor as he fell and suffered a sever brain hemorrhage.  The unconscious teen was immediately handcuffed, but it is alleged the police delayed in calling for medical assistance.  Eventually, the teen was airlifted to a hospital and put into a medically induced coma.  The teenager’s mother, Maria Acosta, has sued the Bastrop County, its police department, and its school district after the tragic accident.  Acosta is seeking medical expenses and damages for use of excessive force, failure to train and discipline, and civil rights and education code violations.

Similarly, Andre Little, an African-American teenager, is suing the city of Richmond, CA after a police officer allegedly tasered him in the testicles.  According to Little, he was waiting for a train when Officer Kristopher Tong moved toward him and asked if he was involved with a group of teens that had been previously detained for questioning.  After denying any association with the group, Officer Tong told Little to move to another section of the platform.  After Little refused to move, Tong and another officer allegedly pulled him to the ground, tasered Little in the scrotum, and then placed him on his stomach and tasered his back.  U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled that Little did not sufficiently prove that Tong singled the teen out or was motivated by race; however, Little will be offered an opportunity to amend his suit.

Likewise, an 18-year-old graffiti artist, Israel Hernandez-Llach, died after being tasered by a Miami Beach police officer on August 10, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida.  Hernandez-Llach, who had other artworks on display in Miami art galleries, was spray-painting a McDonald’s restaurant when the police ordered him to stop.  A brief foot pursuit ensued, ending in the police tasering Hernandez-Llach after he refused to stop running.  Sadly, the young man died shortly after being tasered.  Further, according to the family’s attorney, Jason Kreiss, Hernandez-Llach would have likely only faced a few hours of community service for the offense of spray-painting, further demonstrating the disparity between the offense and the result of using a Taser against a teenager.

Lastly, during “Career day” at Tularosa New Mexico Intermediate School in 2012, a police officer used his Taser gun on a 10-year-old boy to show him what cops do to people who don’t follow orders.  Allegedly, Officer Chris Webb of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, asked a group of boys if they would like to clean his patrol unit.  A number of boys said that they would; however, R.D. jokingly responded that he did not want to clean the patrol unit.  Officer Webb then allegedly pointed his Taser at R.D. and said, “Let me show you what happens to people who do not listen to the police.”  Next, the officer fired two barbs from the Taser at R.D.’s chest.  Then, instead of calling emergency medical services, Officer Webb pulled out the barbs and took the boy to the school principal’s office.  Due to the incident, R.D. has scars and has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Rachel Higgins, R.D.’s guardian ad litem, has sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Officer Webb and is seeking punitive damages for the boy for battery, failure to render emergency medical care, excessive force, unreasonable seizure, and negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.

These are only a few of the numerous instances when Taser use has gone horribly wrong.  This leads to several questions:

  • Are Tasers inappropriate to use against juveniles?
  • Should school police be banned from using Tasers against juveniles?
  • Is it appropriate to use Tasers when results from their use are unpredictable?

Photo:  A policeman with the Taser X26 model.  (AFP Photo / Jean-Pierre Muller)

Where Is the Justice for Juvenile Sexual Assault Victims?

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Approximately 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18.  Further, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  After reviewing a couple recent cases, it is easy to see why sexual assaults are not routinely reported to the police.

For example, a Texas high-school senior, Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, was allegedly raped in a band room and after reporting the incident to her band director and principal, was forced to leave her school and attend a disciplinary school with the alleged rapist.  After an initial investigation including a medical evaluation which found Rachel had lacerations consistent with rape, the school determined the claims could not be substantiated, charged the young woman with “public lewdness,” and placed her in disciplinary alternative education program alongside her alleged attacker.  Removing Rachel from her high school and placing her in disciplinary school jeopardized her chances of graduating on time, and placed her in the same school, and possibly the same classes, as her alleged attacker.  Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union and their Texas affiliate began assisting Rachel and her family.

Sandra Park, a senior attorney with the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union explained that a series of mistakes occurred.  First, when Rachel reported the sexual assault to the band director immediately after the incident, he told her to work it out with the perpetrator, which is not what a rape victim should have to do.  Next, after reporting the incident to the principal, the principal appropriately reported the sexual assault to law enforcement, but the school prematurely ended its investigation.  Similarly, the police quickly closed its case after investigating only one day and charged Rachel with public lewdness, which is questionable because a rape kit supported her story.  Lastly, the school disciplined Rachel and sent her to an alternative education program, which Park describes as “a serious flaw and mistake by the school.”

Subsequently, the ACLU worked to get Rachel transferred back into a regular high school so she could graduate on time, and filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education alleging the school had violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education.  In the summer of 2012, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled that Rachel’s Title IX rights had been violated.  In regard to sexual assaults on school campuses, Sandra Park stated, “[I]t’s vitally important that school administrators and police really understand their obligations to respond to the violence and not turn around and penalize the victim like they did in Rachel’s case.”

Although Rachel’s case ended positively, the Rusk County District Attorney Michael Jimerson stated that in Rachel’s interview with the forensic specialist, she had used language that “implied consensual sex instead of forcible rape.”  Likewise, a case in Louisiana last year alleged that an incarcerated 14-year-old consented to be raped by a corrections officer.  In that case, a Louisiana parish stated it should not liable for the rape of a 14-year-old girl in a juvenile detention center because the victim “consented” to be sexually assaulted by a 40-year-old guard at the facility.  It was argued that the guard could not have sexual relations with the victim inside the detention center without cooperation from her because the guard did not use force, violence, or intimidation when engaging in sexual relations.

Carolyn McNabb, an Louisiana attorney and child advocate, criticized the parish’s victim-blaming in a letter to parish attorneys:  “To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record.”  Additionally, Marci Hamilton, a nationally recognized sex crime victim advocate and professor at Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York, (and former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), criticized the parish’s argument stating, “The defense has no basis in law.”  Further, “She is a victim of statutory rape.  The age of consent in Louisiana is 17.  The defense is also offensive to sex assault victims everywhere.”

The guard, Angelo Vickers, finally pled guilty to molestation of a juvenile and is serving a 7-year sentence.  Although the Texas and Louisiana victims were able to find some justice through the courts, too often victims of sexual assault are blamed and/or face retaliation for reporting the crime.  Further, rapists are often punished minimally or not at all.  On college campuses, young males have been found guilty of violating the sexual assault policies, but are only forced to undergo counseling or issued a no-contact order, which may still allow them to be in the same classes as their victim.  Moreover, a 2005 Department of Justice study found that only 56% of prison employees who were clearly caught sexually abusing inmates were referred for prosecution, and many are released on low bonds or given negligible sentences on the grounds that their victims were in prison.  Which leave one to wonder if there is any justice for juvenile sexual assault victims.  We would like to hear your opinions on this issue; please post your thoughts below.

 

For more information:

http://m.democracynow.org/stories/14120

www.salon.com/2013/08/07/louisiana_parish_claims_incarcerated_14_year_old_consented_to_be_raped_by_her_corrections_officer

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/crime/lawyers-want-louisiana-court-consider-14-year-old-consented-rape#

 

Photo Credit: sakhorn via Shutterstock