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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

 
Excessive Force

by digby

A bunch of readers have sent this story to me today and it fits in quite well with another than that several forwarded to me yesterday. First, we have a vast number of ER docs saying that based upon their observations of injuries, police often use excessive force:

In a survey of a random sample of U.S. emergency physicians, virtually all said they believed that law enforcement officers use excessive force to arrest and detain suspects.

The sample included 315 respondents. While 99.8 percent believed excessive force is used, almost as many (97.8 percent) reported that they had managed cases that they suspected or that the patient stated had involved excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.

Nearly two thirds (65.3 percent) estimated that they had treated two or more cases of suspected excessive use of force per year among their patients, according to a report of the survey published in the January 2009 issue of the Emergency Medicine Journal.

Dr. Jared Strote of the University of Washington, Seattle, and a multicenter team also found that emergency physicians at public teaching hospitals were roughly four times more likely to report managing cases of suspected use of excessive force than those at university or community teaching emergency departments.

Blunt trauma inflicted by fists or feet was the most common type of injury cited in cases of suspected use of excessive force, followed by "overly tight" handcuffs.

Most emergency physicians (71.2 percent) admitted that they did not report cases of suspected use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.

A large majority (96.5 percent) reported that they had no departmental policies on reporting their suspicions or they did not know of a policy to guide their actions, and 93.7 percent said they had received no education or training in dealing with these situations.

However, most emergency physicians (69.5 percent) felt that it was within their scope of practice to refer cases of suspected use of excessive force for investigation and almost half (47.9 percent) felt that emergency physicians should be legally required to report cases of suspected use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.

Imagine if tasering were added into the definition of excessive force, as it should be. (It doesn't usually leave marks, so these doctors don't see it unless the person is one of the growing number of those who are injured thudding to the ground, suffer heart attacks or ... die.)

And speaking of excessive force:

Two Newburgh Heights police officers and a dispatcher were indicted Tuesday on felonious assault charges for their roles in using a Taser on a drunken driving suspect.

Joseph Szelenyi, 31, of Newburgh Heights; Bobby Hoover, 32, of Brunswick; and dispatcher Christopher Minek, 25, of Strongsville are accused of hitting Kim Bankhead several times with a Taser during her arrest and processing following a traffic stop Nov. 25, 2007.

Bankhead was driving away from the Crankshaft Bar with her ex-husband about 9 p.m. that evening when Hoover pulled her over. He said she smelled of alcohol and arrested her for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Szelenyi drove up to assist. Szelenyi used a Taser twice while attempting to handcuff her and place her in the police car, said Ryan Miday, spokesman for Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.

When they arrived at the station where Minek was working, they handcuffed Bankhead to a bench. Hoover then hit her twice with a Taser and Minek once, Miday said.

At her Feb. 25 Municipal Court hearing, Bankhead pleaded no contest to operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Charges of disorderly conduct, driving in a prohibited area, failure to yield and resisting arrest were dismissed. Bankhead filed a civil suit in October against the city and three men. She is asking for $2 million.

The interesting thing about this is that they charged these officers with felonious assault with a taser. Cases like this could lead to some interesting legal reevaluation of weapon. After all, we've been told over and over again that there's no harm in tasering --- it's just a little zap that doesn't do anyone any harm. But if you can be indicted for using a taser as a weapon then someone, at least, sees that there is inherent harm in shooting people with electricity (it's hard to believe that isn't simple common sense) and that police should not be allowed to use them impunity any more than they can use a billy cub or a gun with impunity.

In most cases so far, the police are found to be not guilty of a crime, but at some point it's going to become obvious that these are dangerous weapons and that standards have to be strictly enforced. This zap first and and ask questions later mentality (and the impending use of a new generation of weapons to quell dissent and break up lawful gatherings) is bound to bring these legal question to the fore. Let's hope we haven't gone so far down the torture rabbit hole that it's too late.

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