Taser Debate Heats Up in Texas

It's a debate that's heating-up all over Texas, whether Tasers are being abused by law enforcement officials. More than 4,000 tasers are now in use in the Houston area as alternatives to lethal force, but critics say instead of being weapons of last resort, they're being used in minor, non-life threatening situations. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams found out first hand, there's a fine line between when it's appropriate to use a Taser and when it's not. This story contains some graphic audio.

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Outside an east side apartment complex, a man is struggling with a Harris County Precinct 6 Deputy Constable.

"Stop it. What are you doing man?"

The suspect, later charged with drug possession and resisting arrest, refuses to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. The deputy constable is able to take the suspect to the ground, face down, but requests help from bystanders to control the man, who continues to struggle. Within minutes, three other deputies arrive on the scene. I just happened to be at a nearby location for another story and caught the arrest on tape.

"Where, where is he at? Right here, right here. Move back. Hey, move back, I'll Tase him. Don't move."

"Here, this tape I'm hearing, this guy didn't show me that they even tried to continue to subdue him physically. He comes out and says let me Tase him."

Constable Victor Trevino is clearly troubled the arriving deputy used his Taser so quickly and has promised an internal investigation.

"I guarantee you if everything turns out the way I just heard it then it's going to change. We're going to stop that and we've got to buckle down and tell these officers the intent of this Taser was not for you to mess with people because they were being confrontational but not the point where they were threatening you or you couldn't take them down with two or three guys. That was not the intent of the Taser."

Lawmakers in Austin are now questioning when and how law enforcement officers use Tasers, with concerns they're being used too often and in some cases leading to injuries and deaths. Houston State Representative Garnet Coleman has filed a bill that would put a year-long moratorium on the use of Tasers by police officers.

"Clearly if they're used in lieu of lethal force, that's fine. But the record doesn't show that. The record says they're being used not just in lieu of using lethal force, they're being used in their own right to subdue people who are stopped by the police."

Representative Lon Burnam of Fort Worth has filed four Taser-related bills that he hopes will create standard rules for when stun guns can be used. He agrees Tasers can be valuable tools when they're used properly.

"Too often we have become kind of callous and cavalier about the use of these Tasers. Some of these bills are to make minimum standards for training to make sure everybody that's using one of these Tasers understands that that's 50,000 volts that you're shooting into somebody."

Understandably, many law enforcement agencies are against any legislation that would severely restrict or even ban the use of what they consider viable alternatives to deadly force. Again, Constable Victor Trevino.

"If you've got to take someone down but you don't have to use your gun, the Taser is a good alternative because evidence has shown that they survived. It's okay and I'd rather have that, but I don't want to see or hear that it's being abused."

The entire recording of the Tasering incident referred to in this story is available on our website, KUHF.org.

Click to listen to the entire recording of the Tasering incident.

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