Friday, July 2, 2010

Rules of Engagement III: Tasering Has Some Downsides

More on Rules of Engagement. Last month, two simultaneous news stories grabbed my eyes within a week of each other. Here's the first one:
SAN DIEGO — A man who died after being shot with a Taser stun gun Friday night by federal border officers had lived in the U.S. for 27 years, had five children and worked in construction, his wife said.


Hernandez Rojas, a Mexican national, was declared brain-dead Saturday at a Chula Vista hospital, according to the county Medical Examiner’s Office. He suffered heart failure Monday and was taken off life support then, San Diego police said.


After their arrest in the mountains, Hernandez Rojas and his brother were transported to a Border Patrol station for processing, Collins said, then to the border turnstile at San Ysidro to be returned to Mexico. As agents were unloading him from a van and taking off his handcuffs, “he started fighting with the Border Patrol agents,” who used batons to try to subdue him, Collins said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers were called for help. A customs agent shot Hernandez Rojas him in the back with a Taser, and he stopped breathing shortly afterward, Collins said. He was found to have two darts from the stun gun in his back.
Firstly, I couldn't find any non-local news that documents this, which is tragic. Secondly, I can't find the KPBS account that disclosed that:
  1. There were twenty agents present when Rojas was tasered,
  2. He was put to the ground, handcuffed, and then dragged away out of sight of the camera before the tasering happened.
Apropos of this story, by the way, is the Oscar Grant trial, about the man who was shot to death by a police officer who claims he meant to pull out a taser. Here's Julianne Hing on the rules of engagement issue related to both stories:
If the jury buys the theory that Mehserle intended to pull only his Taser on Grant, does that mean he was within the law when he shot an unarmed man?

That's a tougher legal question than it is a moral one. Because what jurors have also learned during this trial is that police officers have total discretion as to what tool they need to subdue suspects. Moreover, they are allowed to use any kind of force that corresponds to the level of threat they perceive they're under.

So it's difficult to prove cops have been guilty of excessive force and intentional abuse; the only defense a cop needs is that he or she fears life-threatening danger. Mehserle says he feared such danger that night.
If that's the level of ease with which police officers can draw their gun -- and the ease with which they can defend themselves, there will be more use of excessive force, both by accident and deliberately.

And what do you get at the end of it? Well, let's see the second story:
U.S. authorities said Tuesday a border patrol agent was defending himself and colleagues when he fatally shot a 15-year-old boy as officers came under a barrage of big stones while trying to detain illegal immigrants on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.
"It is a deadly force encounter," Bonner said. "One that justifies the use of deadly force."