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)

Tracey Toll

About Tracey Toll

Tracey Toll is a second year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She attended undergraduate school at Butler University and received a B.F.A., cum laude, with High Honors in Dance Performance. After graduating, Tracey performed with Ballet Austin for three years. During that time, she participated in Ballet Austin’s program in which dancers performed and taught movement to at-risk children at schools throughout the Austin area. After leaving Ballet Austin, Tracey worked as a paralegal practicing insurance defense and product liability defense, which led to her interest in attending law school. Since starting law school, Tracey has interned for two federal judges at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and she spent the past summer working as a Summer Associate with a law firm specializing in civil litigation in areas such as products liability, commercial litigation, labor and employment, and insurance coverage. Additionally, she is a member of the Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy. Tracey looks forward to the opportunity to work in the area of children’s rights and to advocate for children.

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