Monday, November 02, 2015

How Tasers became instruments of excessive force for the Border Patrol

Searching for a way to curb fatal border shootings, Border Patrol leaders decided in 2008 that their agents needed a new weapon on their belts. The agency began to supply Tasers, a hand-held device that delivers a paralyzing electric charge, as a way to end confrontations quickly and safely. But in scores of cases along the border, the Tasers became instruments of excessive force, a Los Angeles Times analysis found. The Times examined 450 uses of Tasers from 2010 to 2013 that were documented by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.  At least 70 times, agents fired the devices at people who were running away, even though there was no struggle or clear indication that agents were in danger, according to use-of-force reports. At least six times, agents used the weapons against people who were trying to climb over the border fence back into Mexico. Two people were shocked while they were handcuffed. Two were hit with five cycles of the weapon, even though the agency's policy says no one should receive more than three. Three people died after being hit by Tasers wielded by border agents or customs officers. In one episode, 24-year-old Alex Martin, who had led agents on a car chase, burned to death after a border agent smashed his car window and fired a Taser inside. The device ignited an explosion and fireball.  The Times' analysis found that most of the people subjected to Tasers had been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border or were suspected of being in the country illegally, not fleeing arrest on more serious charges. "When you put that weapon out there and they have access to it, they're going to use it," said Ralph Basham, the former Customs and Border Protection commissioner who authorized the use of Tasers seven years ago. "Having spent my life in law enforcement, I know you hate to see someone getting away." Questions about fatal encounters with suspects have bedeviled Customs and Border Protection, the nation's largest law enforcement agency, mirroring the national debate over police use of force.

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