Editorial: Reserve judgment in Taser case
What kind of message does it send to police officers and the criminal element of society when an officer can automatically be suspended without a hearing after using a non-lethal method of force to subdue a suspect?
That's what happened in Troy when an Albany County sheriff's deputy was suspended, without pay, for using a Taser on a 16-year-old suspect in a high-speed car chase. The teenager had refused to obey an officer's orders to lie on the ground while he was being arrested.
The officer may indeed have gone overboard in securing an unarmed suspect who was in the process of surrendering. But maybe the officer's actions were justified. Only a full investigation will determine that. The only evidence of misconduct was a video snippet of the incident taken from a police car's dash-top camera.
The camera showed the suspect on his knees with his hands up and the officer shooting his Taser at the teenager. It would seem the suspect had been rendered a non-threat. But the officer says the suspect was refusing to completely comply with the officer's directives, and that's why he used the Taser.
Yet without fully investigating the matter, according to the officer's attorney, the Albany sheriff suspended the officer without pay and started disciplinary proceedings about the improper use of a Taser, essentially conceding wrong-doing by the officer.
We understand what's happening here. The fatal shooting on August 9 of an unarmed suspect in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer, along with another fatal shooting of a knife-wielding suspect in St. Louis on Tuesday, are still fresh in our minds.
Police department leaders are ultra-sensitive these days to any allegations of police brutality in the wake of these incidents and others.
Officials are very mindful of how the public might react, particularly when part of an incident is caught on videotape and flashed across social media.
But there's a big difference between what happened in Missouri and what happened in Troy.
In Missouri, both suspects were killed in the process of being arrested. In Troy, the kid was unharmed. That's because the local sheriff's deputy used non-lethal force to subdue the suspect; the police in Missouri did not.
That's what Tasers are designed and used for, as an alternative to bullets. The suspect gets a brief electric shock that temporarily stuns him so police can get cuffs on him. In only rare instances is a suspect killed or seriously injured from a Taser. Gunshots are often fatal.
Of course we need to be sensitive to police brutality. It happens all too often. Citizens, even criminals, have a right not to be abused by people in authority brandishing weapons.
But we also have to support police in the difficult practice of doing their jobs and encourage them to use non-lethal alternatives to subdue suspects whenever possible.
And when officers do choose that non-lethal option over killing a suspect, they should be given a greater benefit of the doubt — from the public and from their superiors.