Last weekend an 18 year old high school student was killed when campus police at the University of Cincinnati used Tasers to subdue him. While the actual cause of death may not be known for weeks, UC has since suspended the use of Tasers on campus until more is known.
This past weekend was particularly bad for Taser deaths. According to the Christian Science Monitor, three people were killed when police used the shock devices to gain control of situations. All three deaths are under investigation.
Eighteen year old Everette Howard was a student from North College Hill. He had recently graduated in the top of his class and was looking to attend UC full time in the coming months. According to police who had been called to the dorms about an assault, Howard approached them with fists balled before they fired the Taser at him.
Though the officers state Howard was breathing and had a pulse, they acknowledged that something didn’t seem right, that he appeared incoherent after being hit. He went into cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived and he then died.
When local press gained copies of the police reports, they found that much of the reports had been blacked out or “redacted”. There were fourteen pages in all, including incident reports and dispatch logs, with even basic information deleted. Under the Public Records Act, incident reports are to be turned over without redaction.
Assistant General Counsel for UC Doug Nienaber says that there is a section of Ohio law that allows certain things to be withheld when it is imperative to the law enforcement investigation. Jack Griener, attorney for the Enquirer, however, says that incident reports are not part of the investigation and instead merely begin the investigation.
It isn’t immediately clear if UC is trying to hide something and no one seems to be implying this, only that they should be more forthcoming with this information. The coroner doesn’t plan to have results back on the official cause of death for at least a month. In the meantime, the college will no longer be using Tasers to enforce security.
This is far from the first incident of Taser use resulting in death. As a matter of fact, Amnesty International says that since 2001, over 340 people in North America have died following police use of Tasers. Taser International released a warning two years ago alerting law enforcement agencies that the device should not be aimed at the chest, hopefully preventing a deadly shock to the heart.
Police count Tasers as a valuable tool but their safety isn’t completely guaranteed. Although they may save some lives, giving officers an additional step between verbal direction and deadly force, the presence of a Taser may make an officer more likely to use force when a questionable situation arises.
Being on the other side of a police use of force action can be both physically painful and mentally stressing. Usually, such interactions result in injury and criminal charges.