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King Beating Focuses Attention on Police Taser, Nightstick

March 30, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King focused new attention on the Police Department’s use of two weapons in its arsenal, the Taser electric shock gun and the nightstick.

Although these weapons are common throughout American law enforcement, the Los Angeles Police Department has been accused by its strongest critics of making particularly cruel use of them.

As evidence, critics point to the King beating, in which officers struck him dozens of times with 2-pound metal nightsticks. One lawman also shot him as many as three times with the 50,000-volt Taser.

″There’s not just violence here; there’s sadism going on,″ said attorney Stephen Yagman, a longtime LAPD critic who has successfully sued the department in brutality cases. ″There’s an infliction of pain by which officers derive pleasure.″

The department has strongly disputed these allegations, pointing to its extensive training program and saying it is ludicrous to make such blanket statements about a force of more than 8,000 officers.

The King beating, according to Chief Daryl Gates, is an ″aberration.″

In any event, the King case is not the first time the Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have come under criticism for use of these weapons.

A number of wrongful death suits have been filed over the use of the Taser and another electric shock weapon, the stun gun. The nightsticks stirred controversy because of the sometimes fatal choke-hold, now banned by the LAPD.

In the King case, Sgt. Stacey Koon, 40, allegedly used the Taser against King shortly after King was pulled over for speeding in Lake View Terrace in an incident recorded by an amateur photographer’s video camera.

King apparently was shot with the Taser TE86, a flashlight-sized device that shoots two 15-foot-long wires with barbs at the end into a suspect’s clothing, then sends a 50,000-volt electrical charge through the wires into the suspect’s body when a button is pressed.

″It gives (a suspect) what some people would describe as a spasm, or cramping, or full-body charley horse,″ said Barry Resnick, chief executive of Tasertron of Newport Beach, the company that makes the Taser.

The Taser has been supplied to 267 law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles and New York City police departments, Resnick said.

The device differs from the small and equally controversial stun gun, which must be pressed against a person to transmit the electric charge.

Los Angeles police spokesman Officer Bill Frio said police policy allows officers to use the Taser if a situation would cause more bodily injury to a suspect or officer if the Taser is not used.

He said the Taser is not standard issue for an officer, and generally remains in a station house store room. It is shot only by an officer trained in its use, usually a sergeant, he said.

The Taser has generated controversy in the past because of the death of suspects who were shocked, but there has been disagreement over whether the Taser or other factors - such as heart failure or drug abuse - have caused death in these cases.

Resnick said Tasertron has ″been dragged into″ lawsuits against law enforcement agencies involving the Taser, but the company has never paid a jury award.

The other weapon used against King, the police nightstick, has been the center of its share of criticism, chiefly because of the deaths of suspects in the now-banned choke-hold.

In the King case, officers are seen pummeling King with what appears on the videotape to be the LAPD’s standard-issue PR24 Monadnock nightstick, a 2-foot- long, 2-pound piece of aluminum alloy manufactured by Monadnock Lifetime Products Inc. of New Hampshire.

Witnesses testifying before the grand jury reportedly said King was struck in the head, and doctors said King had at least 11 broken facial bones, including a shattered eye sock, that appeared to be the result of multiple blows.

Frio said officers are trained to hit suspects below the shoulders, but ″it doesn’t always work that way in an altercation.″ Training for nightstick use starts at the Police Academy and officers later receive refresher instruction, Frio said.

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