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Off-Duty Cop Tasing an 11-Year-Old Should Provoke a Clear Wakeup Call for Police Reform

Police officer with taser
Police officer with taser
J. Bennett Guess,
Executive Director,
ACLU of Ohio
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September 14, 2018

How young is too young for a person to be tased? In Cincinnati, the answer disturbingly seems to be 7 years old. This is as shocking as it is unacceptable.

The city is purportedly reviewing its policy on the use of force, specifically the use of tasers, after an off-duty Cincinnati police officer working as a security guard deployed his stun gun against an 11-year-old girl who allegedly stole about $50 of goods from a grocery store. According to media reports, the officer’s bodycam video shows the girl crying as firefighters removed the taser barbs from her back.

The child was not a threat to law enforcement, and the officer is clearly guilty of using excessive force. After the incident, he even conceded that she was not a threat to him, to others, or to herself. Make no mistake, tasers are weapons, and they can not only hurt but kill.

The American Heart Association confirms that misuse of a taser can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death. Tasers emit a 50,000-volt initial shock followed by 100 microsecond pulses of 1,200 volts. Since 2000, more than 1000 people in the United States have died from police-inflicted stun gun encounters. While intended, theoretically, to be a “non-lethal” method of control by law enforcement, there is too much evidence to the contrary.

Such a brutal response from a police officer is unwarranted, unacceptable, and should be cause for great outrage among all who care about the safety of children. And, adding racial insult to bodily injury of a child, the officer was caught on video saying to her, “This is why there aren’t any grocery stores in the Black community, because of all this going on.”

Racialized policing steps into the light, and it is a horror to behold.

In reviewing this case, a use-of-force panel recently found that police officer Kevin Brown, while working an off-duty security shift at a Kroger store, broke several procedural rules, including expressing discriminatory sentiments, when he tased the 90-pound, 4-foot-11 girl. The review panel also cited the officer’s poor judgment in assessing the lack of criminal severity or risk posed by the suspect and for not activating his body camera until after using his taser, some five minutes after he had been told of the alleged theft. The officer also failed to warn the girl about his impending taser use.

Officer Brown will now face a pre-disciplinary hearing, but he will not face criminal charges. The shoplifting claims against the girl have been dismissed. This is not what police accountability looks like. The review panel failed to address the officer’s weapon use on a child, evidently because it is not out of line with the department’s current policy. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, police officials are told tasers can be deployed against children as young as 7 and adults as old as 70 if they are resisting arrest

Regardless of whether a child resists arrest or not, the policy is unjust, indecent, and must be changed.

“We are extremely concerned when force is used by one of our officers on a child of this age,” Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said about the incident. “As a result we will be taking a very thorough review of our policies as it relates to using force on juveniles as well as the propriety of the officer’s actions.”

While Chief Eliot Isaac’s comments allow for measured hope that the incident will provoke much-needed policy review, this incident and its aftermath must be monitored to ensure that community members, and especially people of color, are protected from police violence.

Taser use on children is cruel and unacceptable, especially when a child is doing nothing that is endangering the safety of others. It is urgent that the Cincinnati Police Department review this policy and revise it so incidents like this one don’t happen again.