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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Commentary: Looking at the Taser Death of Ricardo Abrahams

It has been just over a week since the death of Ricardo Abrahams.

According to accounts in the local paper, the man was in his late 40s, had checked into Safe Harbor Crisis house which is a short-term program for people who have mental health issues that they need to resolve.

The police were called in after he left the facility to determine if he posed a threat to himself and the public.

When the police found he was confrontational and ignored their instructions. He became increasingly agitated.

It was at this point that they determined he needed to be taken into custody. They used their Tasers. The Taser did not have an immediate effect. Apparently they tasered him a total of four times and also struck him with the batons.

It was during that process that Mr. Abrahams died.

I was not there and have not talked to anyone who was on the scene. However, while acknowledging that, there are several concerns about how this proceeded.

I have spoken with several officers and several people who work with the police on these types of issues. Everyone is concerned with the use of the Taser in this case, particularly the use of the Taser four times and the baton strikes.

The first point to note is that the individual was mentally ill. Automatically there should have been an expectation that the individual might not be responsive to some commands and instructions.

Was the person a danger to himself or the public at this point? They describe him as agitated but unarmed except with a pencil. So was there a need to immediately get him into custody or could they have called someone better able to console and calm the man?

The officers I talked with said they knew little about the officers involved on the scene, but suggested there is often an over-reliance on tools such as the Taser rather than the ability to understand and control the scene verbally and to recognize that an individual might not be responsive.

Tasers are marketed as an non-lethal alternative to firearms. However, as the Sacramento Bee article pointed out there have been 300 deaths since 2001 of people who have been shot by Tasers. Of course from those stats it is hard to determine if there is a net loss of life or a saving of life by its use.

However, increasingly people are complaining that Tasers are too quickly administered because of the non-lethal marketing as opposed to other techniques.

These are all questions that need to be answered.

Again, I will stress I was not there nor was I in the officers shoes, but based on media reports I am very concerned with how this was handled as were most of the people I spoke to, again, several of them were experienced police officers.

Meanwhile in an interesting twist, the Yolo County District Attorney's Office is not investigating this case because Mr. Abrahams was an intern with their department.

Woodland police investigators are conducting the investigation with help from the Sheriff's Department and several of the local law enforcement agencies. The Attorney General's Office will receive the results of the case for review.

This is the type of case that would seem to beg for some sort of independent investigation. We will see what they come up.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting