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Honolulu police have used Tasers for years, and there’s strict training on where, when and how. Now, KHON2 has gotten exclusive video when something goes wrong.
Late one September afternoon in 2010 on the North Shore, a fight breaks out in an empty lot on Pupukea Road.
“They had a confrontation with a security guard at Foodland, and it got drug all the way over here in to the lot,” witness Chris Tronolone said. “I think the security guard’s shirt was ripped and everything.”
A police officer pulls up, and the rest unfolds on HPD Taser video, as the officer tells two suspects to step back.
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Cameras have been atop Taser guns for a few years now, but KHON2 is the first to get Hawaii police to make video public.
If Taser video’s rolling, it means an officer has the device ready to go just in case.
In the video KHON2 obtained, after one suspect walks away, the second one puts up his hands and walks away too — but the officer deploys the Taser into that man’s back. He drops face-first to the ground.
“He was a big guy, but when the cop hit him with the Taser,” Tronolone said, “I’ve never seen anybody fall like that ever.”
According to HPD, it wasn’t ok — shooting somebody in the back, when they’re walking away with their hands up.
But wait, there’s more, much more. The suspect, already incapacitated face-down on the ground, gets tased again.
That shot in the back, and shock on the ground, landed the officer out 20 days unpaid suspension.
In order for Taser use to be okay, HPD told KHON2: “A subject should generally be actively resisting or physically counteracting an officer’s attempt to control, thereby posing a risk of bodily harm to the officer, subject, or another person. Subjects who are running away or engaged in peaceful civil disobedience are not considered engaged in active resistance.”
According to police misconduct records KHON2 investigated, officers have been suspended several more times for Taser misuse. (2009, 1; 2010, 2; 2011, 2; and 2012, 1).
Those Taser-related suspensions are few relative to the many dozen more times the guns have been deployed over the years. (2009, 60; 2010, 44; 2011, 25; and 2012, 21).
HPD told KHON2: “There have been many situations, including those involving individuals who were wielding knives or attempting suicide, where less lethal force was successfully used.”
This North Shore case yielded the longest punishment at 20-days out. And it’s the only video that HPD says it can give us out of all of those cases — they say anything still under internal review or a lawsuit microscope are hands-off, but we’ll keep pushing on our open-records request.
Even this clip has 2 unexplained gaps — 24 seconds in all — while the suspect is on the ground — we want that from HPD, too. HPD said they believe the missing parts could be due to what they call a “brown out,” which they say happens when a Taser battery is old or low, so that it can preserve power in case the officer needs to deploy it again. They say there were no other firings during the missing moments.
Each time a Taser is fired, HPD says it’s reviewed, any red-flags like a late or incomplete report get a follow up, and serious mistakes land in front of the Administrative Review Board — like this North Shore incident.
“They put the guy in the ambulance,” Tronolone said. “He was very subdued after he was Tasered. I’m sure he sobered up real quick.”
Officers undergo training and certification before being given a Taser, plus a refresher every year.
“We police officers are not robots, we’re humans, too,” SHOPO President Tenari Maafala said. “So we’re susceptible to making mistakes.”
Witnesses don’t think this was a mistake.
“I think the police in this incident did the right thing,” Tronolone said. “I don’t think he could have taken on these two guys.”
“He did his job,” witness Marc Munden said. “He had two guys on his hands, he asked the guy to stop, third time was a charm.”
The Taser-fire reviews don’t include asking questions of those who were there.
“What you’re seeing on the Taser doesn’t tell you what really happened. They should have come and interviewed the neighbors to see if they really should have suspended that guy for 20 days,” Tronolone said. “They would have gotten a whole different perspective.”
Even so, the police says the Taser rules are clear.
“I would say that’s excessive force based on what you shared,” Maafala said. “In some cases our emotions get the better of us, lack of a better judgment. Code black what we call it, where the officer’s mind just goes blank because of the stresses at the moment.”
Asked what can be done to make sure Tasers are used correctly, Maafala said: “Obviously, disciplinary action. Training is more than sufficient, more than adequate.”
Police say they welcome the cameras. Maafala said he would even like to see them on dashboards, too.
“It’s a good thing, it helps the officer know you’re under the scope, it will be recorded so it’s helping the officer’s mindset,” Maafala said.
Tomorrow on KHON2 more video — a mentally unstable woman wielding a weapon tased and gunshot — was that misconduct or the force necessary to protect police? Thursday on Always Investigating.