When an LAPD cop tased Keenan Anderson, the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder and a high school English teacher, four times as other officers restrained him, they had other options and could have used less force, several experts told VICE News.
“I’ve handled hundreds of these cases in my practice, and in my opinion, the tasering seen here was excessive,” Timothy T. Williams Jr., a retired LAPD officer with nearly 50 years working in criminal justice, told VICE News. “Any of those officers should have interceded and said, ‘Enough is enough, let’s stop this’ or ‘This is not working’ or ‘We have enough personnel here to get him back up so he won’t have any distress and take it from there.’”
An LAPD officer encountered Anderson on Jan. 3 after he was involved in a traffic accident. The officer approached the distressed Black man down the block from where the accident had taken place, according to police body camera footage released last week. On the video, Anderson can be heard repeatedly saying someone “is trying to kill me.”
After about seven minutes, Anderson runs into the street away from the officer. When the officer catches up, he demands that Anderson lay on the ground on his stomach so he can be detained. Anderson sits down, but doesn’t roll over. He’s then approached by eight officers who help restrain him.
Officers tell Anderson to relax but he continues to scream and struggle. An officer warns Anderson multiple times that he will tase him, as another can be seen burying an elbow to the Black man’s neck.
One of the officers who arrived deployed the taser at least six times, four right up against Anderson’s body, over the course of 33 seconds. Only those four were effective in delivering a shock to Anderson, according to LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore. Throughout the struggle, Anderson can be heard screaming “Help,” and “They’re trying to kill me.” He also tells the cops, “Don’t do this” and says the police are “trying to George Floyd me.”
Anderson was transported to the hospital five minutes later by paramedics. According to police, he experienced a “medical emergency” hours after they detained him and died.
“I’ve handled hundreds of these cases in my practice, and in my opinion, the tasering seen here was excessive.”
Williams spent 29 years with the LAPD, 26 dedicated to criminal and administrative investigations. He’s been running his own private investigation practice for 20 years and has also authored a book analyzing police procedure, use of force and wrongful convictions. In his opinion, not only did the officer who tased Anderson have other options, the other officers on the scene should have stopped him.
“There were about six officers who appeared to initially respond to back up this motor cop,” Williams said. “It would seem to me that even if he was resisting, you had enough personnel there to turn him over and get him handcuffed.”
Dr. John Peters Jr., a former police officer and deputy sheriff in York County, Pennsylvania, and Braintree, Massachusetts, agreed with Williams.
“As a general rule, once you have more officers on scene, you try to do physical restraint. And you back off on the use of an electronic device,” Peters told VICE News. “I think LAPD policy would pretty much confirm that.”
Peters, currently serves as president of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, which provides training and education on the prevention of deaths during police arrests. He’s also the executive director of the nonprofit organization, Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, which provides resources and education for law enforcement professionals.
Peters said that based on what we know about the arrest so far, using a stun gun wasn’t the best choice for what was happening at the moment of Anderson’s arrest.
“To shoot somebody who's down with a taser is going cause neuromuscular incapacitation, which means they're not going to be able to move,” Peters explained. “And then you're telling him [Anderson] to get on his stomach, but then use a taser which prevents him from getting on a stomach. That's kind of a ‘what came first the chicken or the egg?’ situation. It just doesn’t make logical sense to do that.”
“To shoot somebody who's down with a taser is going cause neuromuscular incapacitation, which means they're not going to be able to move.”
The LAPD doesn’t have a defined policy on how many times the taser can be used, but Chief Moore said officers should generally avoid repeated or simultaneous activations of the device to avoid seriously hurting a person they’re trying to detain.
The department does have guidelines on the use of force in its manual, which states that a use of force must be reasonable and done with a reverence for human life.
The officers on scene may have violated those guidelines, according to Williams and Peters.
Chief Moore, however, stopped short of saying as much and noted that the officer who tased Anderson “believed each activation was achieving some level of compliance.”
If the officer did indeed violate the LAPD’s use of force policy, the department’s manual is clear on what consequences could be.
“Officers who use unreasonable force degrade the confidence of the community we serve, expose fellow officers to physical hazards, violate the law and rights of individuals upon whom unreasonable force or unnecessary deadly force is used, and subject the department and themselves to potential civil and criminal liability” the manual reads.
Though tasers are meant to be a non-lethalway of incapcitating individuals who police are trying to detain, these devices also have a reputation of being harmful, and even deadly, under certain circumstances. In 2009 for example, Moberly, Missouri resident, 23-year-old Stanley Harlan, went into cardiac arrest and died after local police tased him three times for a total of 31 seconds. Just last year, an officer fired a taser at a 29-year-old man experiencing mental distress in their custody right after he covered himself in hand sanitizer. The jolt set the man ablaze, causing him catastrophic lung damage. He died of his injuries 45 days later.
Edward Obayashi, a deputy sheriff and policy advisor for the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office in California has been in law enforcement for 30 years. He told VICE News that no use of force will look pretty on camera, but what transpired during Anderson’s arrest is concerning.
“They all look bad,” Obayashi told VICE News. “And I’ll always use the provisal of I wasn’t there and we don’t know what else the officers perceived. But just from the visuals standpoint, there are legitimate questions regarding whether or not this force was reasonable.”
Even if Anderson wasn’t fully cooperating with the officers’ orders, the video seems to show that his behavior never rose above what is considered “physical active resistance” when police are dealing with a subject, Obayashi said.
“The level of resistance here isn’t the typical resistance where you see the subject flailing with his or her arms kicking at the officers or wrestling with them,” he said. “He may have tensed up. One officer was apparently having a hard time trying to control his arms and put them in a handcuffed position. But as I train officers, after two or three tasings, depending on the situation, if it doesn’t seem to be having a compliance effect, officers are trained to reassess what options should be employed at that point.”
Anderson is one of three people killed by LAPD officers in the first three days of the year, and over the weekend, the city’s residents and Black Lives Matter activists peacefully rallied against the violence. Those protests continued into Tuesday in front of Los Angeles City Hall, as several activists, including Anderson’s cousin, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, called on the LAPD and LA mayor Karen Bass to restrict the use of tasers, released unedited footage of Anderson’s arrest, and reevalutate how cops handle traffic stops.
“There’s no reason why law enforcement should be the first responders at a traffic stop or accident,” Cullors said. “Let’s fund unarmed professionals, trained in crisis management and deescalation to respond to our loved ones.”
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