Forty-year-old Daniel McDonnell was unarmed and in a police holding cell when he began “acting irrationally.”
Surrounded by police he was tased by two different officers. He died a short time later.
He was the fifth person tased in Suffolk by the police to die since 2005.
Just a few days before McDonnell’s death, I was at a meeting where Lucius Ware of the NAACP spoke about the proliferation of taser use by Suffolk police. Lucius has made himself an expert on this subject over the last few years.
When tasers were introduced, they were described as a humane alternative to the use of guns. But, in fact, the police still use guns in situations where their lives are in danger.
Tasers are most often used when an unarmed person is under partial police restraint, but is behaving non-cooperatively. Lucius points out that tasers are often used on people who would have formerly been dealt with by simply bringing in an extra officer or using a billy club. He says that tasers are used disproportionately against unarmed people with mental disabilities whom the police would never have shot in the past.
In other words, for all the rhetoric about the taser as a “humane” weapon, it has not replaced the gun; it has replaced the billy club.
Lucius says that police are given a false sense of the non-lethality of the taser by manufacturers. They often watch a live or videoed demonstration of a person being safely tasered. Lucius points out that the person being demonstrated on has always been examined by a doctor in advance and found to not have heart problems, whereas the persons tasered in the field may have underlying physical problems that make them more likely to die or suffer long-term health problems as a result of the sudden shock of the taser.
This results in tragedies where officers in good faith believed they were only restraining a person, but wound up killing him.