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Taser on children OK, police say

Daytona Beach News Journal | November 27 2004

Officials from a majority of law enforcement agencies in Volusia and Flagler counties say they would not hesitate to shoot a child with a Taser stun gun to keep the youngster from harming himself or someone else.

The Taser policies of law enforcement agencies in both counties require police to consider everything from a suspect's age to physical and mental condition, but no local agency specifically prohibits using the weapon on a child.

"There are those youths out there that are just as capable of hurting someone as any 18-year-old," said Sgt. Pete Moon of the DeLand Police Department. "Each scenario is different."

Debra Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, agreed that age wasn't the only deciding factor. "There are some 12 year-olds out there that are bigger than some adults," she said.

The weapons are equipped with electric barbs that penetrate the skin and transmit an electric shock of up to 50,000 volts from the Taser. Tasers also may be used as a stun gun by pressing the weapon against the skin.

Law enforcement agencies in the area discussed their policies with The News-Journal after two separate incidents in Miami in which police were accused of using their Taser guns on children -- a 12-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy -- who officers claimed were endangering themselves.

The incidents prompted a review of the Miami-Dade Police Department's Taser policy, said Miami-Dade Detective Nelda Fonticella , because that policy does not specifically address the issue of Tasers and children.

Local police said officers are expected to use discretion and consider whether the suspect poses a threat to himself or another person.

Of the local police agencies surveyed, only the Daytona Beach police reported using a Taser on a child under 17.

Volusia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Brandon Haught said Sheriff Ben Johnson is "fully against" using Tasers on children.

"He feels it should be used only as a last resort," Haught said.

Spokesman Gary Davidson described the department's Taser use as "very conservative." Deputies have deployed the weapons 175 times in the last three years.

Resource officers who patrol Volusia or Flagler schools do not carry Tasers, officials said, but do carry service weapons and can call on sheriff's deputies with Tasers for backup.

Daytona Beach Shores police -- who have deployed Tasers more often this year than any other law enforcement agency in the county, according to police reports -- declined comment on the issue.

Police agencies in Central Florida have had to decide whether to allow officers to use Tasers only in cases of active physical resistance, or in any case of resistance, including verbal refusals to cooperate.

In the Daytona Beach police incidents earlier this year where Tasers were deployed against two 16-year-old boys in two separate incidents, the suspects were running away from police, said Lt. Jesse Godfrey, a spokesman for the department.

An officer may fire his or her Taser at a running suspect if the officer believes the person has committed a crime, Godfrey said. The officer must shout verbal commands at the suspect and warn that the Taser will be used.

"In a foot pursuit, either the officer or the person can hurt their leg or ankle, they can get hit by a car or they can fall," Godfrey said. "By using the Taser, we reduce the danger to both."

Yvonne Herrera, R.N., an pediatric intensive care nurse in charge of Night Lite Pediatrics in Orlando, said little information is available about the medical effects of a Taser on a child and the pediatricians there had never heard of a Taser being used on a local child.

"I don't think that was the intended use," she said.

As an emergency room nurse, though, Herrera said she has seen adults brought in after being hit with Tasers. She said the Taser's current doesn't knock suspects from their feet, but causes their knees to buckle, so they crumple to the ground. Patients who have received a Taser blast usually have no serious injuries, she said, and are treated for pain and small lacerations at the site of the stun.

Many officers said that as much as they would dislike having to shoot a child with a Taser, they recognize the time might come when it would be necessary.

"The child would have to reach the same level (of behavior) as an adult," said Ormond Beach training division Officer Vince Champion.

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