Tuesday, November 6, 2007

No Age Limit on Gwinnett, Georgia Police Taser Policy

Halloween incident where police shocked teen sheds light on issue; critics complain kids as young as 6 can be Tasered.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Last week's use of a Taser stun gun on a handcuffed 14-year-old trick or treater is within Gwinnett County police policy, which has no age provision, police said.

The only protection in the policy is for pregnant women because it could induce labor.

So what about a 5- or 6-year-old?

That's OK, according to Gwinnett police policy.

"People who are handcuffed are still a threat no matter what age," said Cpl. Illana Spellman, a Gwinnett County Police Department spokeswoman.

Taser shocks of youths, though, have been questioned by critics, including Amnesty International.

"We have heard about cases all over the nation, even the tasing of a 6-year-old boy in Miami," said Jared Feuer, a spokesman for the organization. "We believe the use of force on any child is excessive force. It doesn't matter if it does not violate police policy."

The Halloween night Taser shock of the teen is being reviewed by Gwinnett police supervisors.

But police brass have said that they don't believe the incident warrants an internal affairs investigation.

During the incident in a subdivision near Snellville, Officer W.A. Bohn was working off-duty detail when he heard the teen cursing loudly near young children, according to a police report.

After the teen tried to punch the officer, he called for backup and was able to get the girl handcuffed with the help of another officer.

The girl was shocked one time with the Taser after she continued to struggle, police said.

The use of the Taser has been a controversial subject across the nation.

Proponents say the 50,000-volt stun gun saves lives and injuries by stopping incidents from escalating to deadly force.

Opponents say the device needs to be studied more, can be misused and may have led to numerous deaths.

Frank Rotondo, director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said his organization has studied the Taser and believes age should not be the deciding factor in use. "You would hope that you would not have to use the Taser on anyone, especially a child," Rotondo said Monday. "But you have to look at the behavior of the individual rather than the age. And in the Gwinnett case, the Taser was able to stop the behavior."

Gwinnett police Maj. Keybo Taylor said he is reviewing the incident.

Taylor said he has asked the foster mother of the teen to come to the Police Department to discuss the incident. However, the woman has refused.

"We are still reviewing it to see if any policies were violated, and so far we do not see any policies violated," Taylor said.