Police in Palo Alto zapped suspects with Tasers in a pair of recent incidents, ending a nearly two-year period in which the stun guns weren't fired at all in the city, according to a new report.
Los Angeles County-based independent police auditors Michael Gennaco and Robert Miller concluded that police were justified in using a Taser in at least one of the incidents, but raised concerns about officer training. The other incident remains under review.
The incident detailed in the report began when a police officer pulled over a vehicle because of an expired registration sticker. The officer called for backup when a passenger in the car "responded strangely" to his questions.
The male passenger appeared to be under the influence of a drug and ignored orders not to put his hands in his pockets, according to the report. The officer fired his Taser into the man for 5 seconds when he twisted out of his grasp during a pat-down search and continued to reach for an object.
"The Taser was effective and the passenger crumpled to the ground," Gennaco and Miller wrote in the report.
Lying face down, the man kept his hands under his chest. But a backup officer was able to handcuff him after the first officer fired another 5-second burst, according to the report.
The object turned out to be a "glass 'crack' pipe." It was broken during the scuffle and one of the officers was cut.
"We concur with the determination that both five-second activations of the Taser were reasonable and conformed to PAPD Taser use policy," Gennaco and Miller wrote in the report.
"While the officer's perception of immediate threat -- a prerequisite for Taser use under PAPD policy -- was inherently speculative in this situation, it was a reasonable inference from the suspect's belligerent stance and his fixation on an object in one of his pockets and his vigorous struggle against the pat down search."
However, the auditors raised some concerns. Although justified by the "rapidly evolving nature of the physical struggle," the first officer did not issue a verbal warning as called for by the policy when possible.
In addition, an interview with the driver about the incident was conducted in the back of a squad car by the backup officer. Ideally, a supervisor should have handled the interview in the open, according to the report.
Still, the driver agreed that the Taser use was justified.
"She appeared to be relaxed and candid in this brief field interview and described her friend as having 'flipped out' and the officers as acting 'very proper,' " Gennaco and Miller wrote in the report.
The auditors ultimately concluded that every officer needs to be well-versed on the policy.
"While we agreed with PAPD's decision to find the one Taser use discussed above in policy, training issues were raised even as to their deployment," Gennaco and Miller wrote in the report. "We are hopeful that PAPD continues to provide robust in-service training to its officers in Taser use, as it did when the Tasers were first brought into the Department."
The report also covered a recent internal affairs investigation into an officer's off-duty conduct and a citizen's complaint about the on-duty conduct of officers.
In the former case, Gennaco and Miller agreed with the investigation's conclusions that the officer had violated the department's "conduct unbecoming" policy by refusing to cooperate with San Francisco authorities while they investigated a report that he was suicidal.
The auditors also found the citizen's complaint unfounded, but said the investigation could have been conducted more quickly.
To read the full report, visit http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/32177.