Message board comments on last week’s taser incident at a John Kerry town hall meeting show the typical polarizing splits between opposing camps: “the guy was an obnoxious jerk, he deserved to get arrested” versus “this is police brutality and censorship.” The news media has done no better. Most reports merely restate what is more clearly observed in the YouTube video. Some local stations have been eggregious in reporting that the student, Andrew Meyer, had a history of pranks, which is only relevant to sentencing in the event he is convicted on a public nuisance charge; Meyer’s past was clearly not known at the time of his arrest and tasering.
There is a rational conversation that individuals and the media need to raise, and it is twofold: 1.) was the student creating a nuisance, outside the bounds of protected speech, that warranted his arrest, and 2.) if arrest was appropriate, was the use of incapacitating force (tasering) justified.
I’ve watched the video a few times, but I’m not aware of Florida’s public speech (or nuisance) laws to comment on whether the initial arrest was warranted. There are limits to public speech, and more appropriately there are limits as to how you must act in certain public forums. I can’t comment on #1 above.
#2 is a different animal. Was the use of a taser justified? Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement has a very extensive Overview of Electronic Control Devices document that calls for tight regulation, oversight, and officer training in deploying tasers. Still, it’s tough to come to a verdict on the Florida case. They have a clear regulation for the deployment of a dart fired taser, but in this case, the officers had disabled the “dart” capability.
CS/CS/SB 214 (Passed the Legislature May, 2006)
“… specifically requiring that the decision to use the device must involve an arrest or custodial situation during which the person who is the subject of the arrest or custody escalates resistance to the officer from passive physical resistance to active physical resistance and, a) the person either has the apparent ability to physically threaten the officer or others, or b) is preparing or attempting to flee or escape.”