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DOJ finds unnecessary and retaliatory use of Tasers by Baltimore police

The first-ever data analysis of all Taser incidents in Maryland over a three-year period reveals that police agencies across the state have predominantly used the devices against suspects who posed no immediate threat. In hundreds of cases, police didn’t follow widely accepted safety recommendations, The Baltimore Sun found.

Baltimore police use of Tasers is often "unnecessary and unreasonable," including against juveniles and people with mental health problems, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The 163-page report — the result of a months-long civil rights investigation — recounts a number of instances since 2010 of Baltimore police using the electro-shock weapons on individuals who posed little or no threat, or who were already detained. Federal officials also found that the police used Tasers as retaliation.

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In a 2013 incident, an officer used a Taser on a woman in drive-stun mode three times for not complying with an order. The woman posed no serious threat, the report said, and she was not arrested or charged with a crime.

Drive-stun mode, as opposed to shooting electrified darts, involves applying a Taser directly to someone's body, causing them pain.

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In a 2011 incident, a young black man refused to comply with a request from Baltimore officers to move and swore at them. The officers tackled and drive-stunned the man, the report said.

"Nothing indicated the man was armed, violent, or presented a danger to the officers," the report said, calling the incident "retaliatory."

Police "resort too quickly" to Tasers when dealing with people with mental health problems, the report said. In a 2011 incident, officers drive-stunned a noncompliant, mentally unstable man five to six times, according to the report. Police did not charge him with a crime.

Baltimore police also have used Tasers inappropriately on juveniles, the report found. In 2011, an officer used a Taser on a young woman for disregarding an order to stop. The woman, 5-foot-2 and 85 pounds, was walking away from the officer, who "had no probable cause for arrest," the report said.

In addition, the report found that the use of Tasers has, at times, been obscured in police records. Some officers have not specified the number of times they used a Taser, noting only "a few" or "several" uses.

A Baltimore Sun investigation, published in March, revealed that police agencies across the state predominantly used Tasers against suspects who posed no immediate threat. And in hundreds of cases over a three-year period through 2014, police did not follow widely accepted safety recommendations, according to The Sun's analysis.

Taser International, which manufactures the weapons, did not respond to a request for comment on the Justice Department report.

Former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who has pushed for a statewide policy on Taser use in Maryland, said the federal findings were "not a surprise." Maryland lacks consistent recommendations on "when it's appropriate to use Tasers and when it's not," he said.

The Baltimore Police Department introduced a Taser policy in 2007 and training guidelines in 2010, according to the report. But neither stipulated when officers should and should not use Tasers. The policy and guidelines primarily described how Tasers are used.

It was not until 2016 that Baltimore police issued new guidance limiting officers' use of Tasers, the report noted.

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