In hundreds of instances over the course of three years, not only did Maryland police officers use Tasers against suspects who posed no immediate threat, many officers did not follow the proper safety recommendations when using the device.
More than 75 Maryland police departments use stun guns. In a six-month investigation, The Baltimore Sun compiled 2012, 2013 and 2014 data revealing that in 60 percent of cases, those who police used a Taser on were considered “non compliant” but also “non threatening.”
Police discharged their stun guns for longer than 15 seconds in one out of every 10 instances. Fifteen seconds exceeds recommendations from Taser International, a manufacturer, the U.S. Department of Justice and policing experts.
Tasers were predominantly deployed against African Americans in Maryland. Sixty-four percent of those hit by stun guns in the state over the past three years were Black men.
According to the Sun, “The experts warn that too often officers are turning to Tasers before exhausting other means of dealing with disorderly people, actions that courts are beginning to brand as unconstitutional excessive force.And while the Taser has been hailed as a less-lethal way to handle difficult situations, police and even the manufacturer say if the weapon isn’t used right, it can lead to death.”
That was the case in the 2013 death of 51-year-old Black man, Anthony Howard, in Montgomery County. Police said in a report on the incident that Howard, who was high on cocaine at the time, had thrown “boulders” and charged at officers.
However, a 17-minute video taken by a resident disputes that account of the incident. The video shows that when officers approached Howard for the last time, he was standing still, holding a child’s scooter:
Officers fired two Tasers, shooting electrified darts connected by long wires into Howard’s body. After he dropped the scooter and keeled over onto a flowerbed, police continued to pump electricity into Howard; he kicked wildly on his back with four officers standing over him. Police fired their Tasers at Howard nine times for a total of 37 seconds far above the recommended limit of 15 seconds. He stopped breathing and died shortly afterward.
The Sun’s investigation found that in 23 percent of the cases, officers said they used the guns because the person used force against them, and in 18 percent of the cases officers said they took action because they were threatened.
In 2014, there were 119 cases in which officers fired Tasers at someone’s chest, which the manufacturer has said could cause cardiac arrest.
The paper also interviewed law enforcement officials, people who were stunned with the weapons and family members of people who died after being hit by a Taser since 2009. Subsequently, there have been more than 400 deaths nationwide, 11 deaths in Maryland. Though, the deaths have been attributed to various reasons, including pre-existing conditions and drug use.
Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said it’s time for the state to reconsider whether to impose a statewide policy on stun gun use.
“The state should absolutely revisit it,” he said. “Tasers have been used by a lot more law enforcement officers and law enforcement departments. We should have uniformity and consistency throughout the state.”
A statewide policy was recommended in 2009 by a task force Gansler formed.
Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg, who spoke on behalf of Maryland police associations, said the stun gun datadoes not show that officers may have been in danger when dealing with a noncompliant suspect. A master Taser instructor, Goldberg said the data also does not account for instances when officers managed to control a suspect by pointing the stun gun at them, but not discharging it.