Taser statistics and video review from Minnesota police depts - KMSP-TV

INVESTIGATORS: Eye of the Taser

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Police officers try to avoid as much combat with suspects as possible. An electronic stun device, or Taser, can help them do that.

We asked the 11 largest police departments in Minnesota for their Taser videos for the past two years, and the required use of force reports for the past two years. As it turned out, only two of the departments we surveyed had Tasers with cameras: Minneapolis and the Minnesota State Patrol.

Minneapolis officers deployed Tasers 837 time, well ahead of St. Paul and the State Patrol. Wright County set off their devices the fewest number of times.

Some of the videos are very clear. You can see and hear the suspects fear and defiance. In other clips, the officer is running or fighting with the subject and the video is almost useless.

Minnesota State Troopers have to be retrained and recertified on the Taser every year.

In real life, hopefully, a single five-second cycle is all it takes. Two barbed probes bearing charged wires poke the suspect and electricity travels through the body between the probes, which are easily removed.

It works because the suspects' muscles freeze and they topple over.

"I can tell you it's a very intense pain but as soon as it's done, it's completely over," said State Patrol Lt. Adam Fulton.

But some guys, and all but one of the suspects in the cases we reviewed, were men. And they can take electricity, especially if they're big, drunk, or on drugs.

Combined, a trooper and Burnsville officers fired at one suspect for 23 solid seconds. State Patrol policy recommends no more than 15 to 20 seconds.

"In the wintertime when people are wearing heavy clothing, there are times where a Taser will be deployed but because of the heavy clothing the probes are not making contact or maybe making intermittent contact," said State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske.

In both departments combined we saw some officers Taser suspects multiple times. The highest number was seven for one suspect.

"It should be used until that person is under control," Roeske said. "If the situation warrants additional deployment then that certainly is within the policy."

St. Paul tells officers to use the shortest duration possible. Three departments – University of Minnesota police and the Anoka and Wright county sheriff's offices -- do not recommend multiple applications.

The use of a Taser or electronic control device falls about halfway up the continuum of force It can reduce a lot of officer injuries where it's quicker and we can get the situation under control.

But the Taser company says they're not risk free. The risk of cardiac arrest estimated at 1 in 100,00 uses.

People fall or hurt themselves thrashing around, which is why we asked about video of a Minneapolis officer Tasering a guy on a bike in traffic because he wouldn't stop to get ticketed for running a red light.

There were 32 injuries because of Tasers in the large departments in the past two years. Most of them (17) in St. Paul.

Deaths are harder to pin down.

Civil rights groups say nationwide more than 200 people have died after being Tasered and that the Tasers caused or contributed to 50 of those deaths.

None of the departments we surveyed reported any deaths in the past two years.

But in Mankato earlier this year, 24-year-old Andrew Layton died after being arrested at a local grocery store. Police reportedly used a Taser on him twice.

In September 2010, Minneapolis police used a Taser on David Smith. He died, too.

Five years ago, 30-year-old Mark Backlund died after being arrested by troopers on a freeway. That same year, Minneapolis police arrested Quincy Smith.

"I am watching a body being brought out of the alley and I am thinking some poor mother again will get that horrible news and my phone rings and I am that mother," said Betty Smith.

Police said Quincy Smith struggled when they tried to arrest him. Betty said she saw were Taser probe marks on his neck and chest

"You shouldn't be using Tasers," she said. "You have the young man on the ground, you have the suspect."

The Taser company warns to avoid the neck and to stay away from the chest to decrease the risk of cardiac arrest. In all cases, police and the Taser company say other factors often are to blame like hidden medical conditions, drug or alcohol use.

Most of the videos we reviewed involved some kind of struggle -- officers or suspects resisting arrest or continuing to thrash even after being handcuffed..

We asked a law enforcement instructor and former cop to grade whether the Tasers were being used appropriately Overall he was comfortable with what he saw. Some of the suspects got Tasered when they refused to follow an officer's command. The professor calls that passive resistance.

The policies we looked at allow Tasers to be used on dogs if they are a threat. Minneapolis police showed up after a neighbor called to say he was afraid to leave his house because of a dog. The officer's report said the dog was snarling and advancing.

Perhaps the most striking video is one in which the Taser isn't used at all. For six minutes the Minneapolis officer endures racial slurs and threats.

A troubled man. A patient officer.

Some departments required their officers to be Tasered during training so they know what it feels like.

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