In a settlement reached today, the Syracuse Police Department has agreed to new rules governing the use of Tasers. The agreement is the result of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union challenging Taser abuse in city schools.
“Tasers are dangerous weapons that require specific rules and protocols to ensure they are only used in situations where force is needed to address a risk of imminent harm to officers or others,” said NYCLU Capital Region Director Barrie Gewanter. “We are encouraged by the new policy and hope it brings clarity to students and officers alike, that overly aggressive policing tactics have no place in our schools or on our streets.”
The lawsuit charged that the repeated abuse of Tasers in Syracuse schools was the inevitable result of the city’s failure to train police officers about the difference between patrolling criminals on the streets and children in schools. The new policy includes specific restrictions against shooting juveniles, the elderly and pregnant women with Tasers and requires an immediate investigation if any of these vulnerable populations are shot.
The two named plaintiffs, Trevon Hanks and Andre Epps, were students when they both suffered unwarranted, painful shocks at the hands of school resource officers (who are members of the Syracuse Police Department). Epps was attempting to break up a fight between two female classmates when an officer fired a Taser into the group of students. Epps, who was not interfering with any police action, was shocked and incapacitated by the Taser before being handcuffed and arrested. He was never charged with any crime as a result of the incident.
“I was humiliated in front of my classmates and my teachers, and what made it worse was that I had done nothing wrong,” Epps said. “My hope is that this policy will help students feel comfortable around the officers in their school so that they can go to them for help and not fear them or their weapons.”
Hanks, who suffers from severe diabetes, was shot with a Taser while lying on the floor and crying because he had learned on one of the last days of school that he might not graduate on time. After Tasering Hanks in painful “drive stun” mode, the officer arrested Hanks and dragged him out of the school in handcuffs. All of the charges were eventually dismissed.
“The experience left me feeling scared and displaced. No student should be made to feel that way in their own school,” Hanks said. “I hope this new policy means this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
The new regulations will be integrated as a part of the Syracuse Police Department’s overall use of force policy. It outlines that Tasers should only be deployed against actively aggressive subjects whose actions pose an immediate threat to themselves or to others.
“Students should feel safe in their learning environment, not fearful of potentially overzealous school resource officers,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Erin Harrist, lead counsel on the case. “We are hopeful that this new policy will ensure no one else is hurt or humiliated because officers are lacking the consistent guidelines and training necessary to deploy Tasers appropriately. With this settlement, Syracuse has taken a positive step towards protecting the safety of all its residents with respect to the use of Tasers.”