The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit challenging the City of Saratoga Springs’ refusal to disclose public records concerning its Police Department’s use of Tasers.

“The public has every right to information on the Police Department’s use of Tasers, dangerous weapons that can severely injure, and even kill, people,” said Melanie Trimble, director of the NYCLU’s Capital Region Chapter. “While there may be instances where Tasers are appropriate law enforcement tools, they require the same degree of scrutiny and supervision as firearms.”

After receiving reports that local police officers were inappropriately using Tasers, the NYCLU on April 13 filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the city for records concerning the Police Department’s use of the weapons. The request included any documents relating to policies and procedures for using Tasers and reports containing information about any incidents in police have used Tasers.

The city denied the records request entirely in a June 16 letter. The letter gave little justification for the blanket denial, but for a single sentence arguing that releasing the records would compromise the safety of police officers and the public.

“Given the debilitating effects of Tasers, transparency about their use is important to public safety,” Trimble said. “The public needs to know how officers are being trained to use these weapons and any guidelines covering their use. Concealing that information doesn’t make us safer.”

Tasers fire twin metal barbs that emit a 50,000-volt charge into an individual, causing the person to collapse from loss of muscular control. There have been numerous instances of people dying or being seriously injured after Tasers were used on them. In March 2005, a teenager in Guilderland, a town outside Albany, was badly burned after being Tasered by police in a mall parking lot. In September 2008, a Brooklyn man fell to his death after police shot him with a Taser as he stood on the ledge of an apartment building.

Moreover, concern has been growing throughout the state the police officers are using Tasers in inappropriate circumstances. In Syracuse, for example, controversy arose two weeks ago after police officers fired Tasers on public school students three times in two days, once hitting an innocent bystander in a school fight.

Lawyers on the case are NYCLU Staff Attorney Adriana Piñón and NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney and Upstate Litigation Coordinator Corey Stoughton.