A grand jury in rural Louisiana today considers whether to bring murder charges against a Taser-wielding police officer in what may become a seminal case in the hotly debated history of stun guns, the Christian Science Monitor reports. No U.S. jury has ever convicted a police officer in connection with a death related to use of an electroshock weapon. The number of deaths in which the guns have played a role has been growing, along with their use in law enforcement agencies.
The Winnfield, La., coroner found the death of Baron “Scooter” Pikes to be homicide by Taser, intensifying a controversy over the devices and exposing the tense tug of war between police and young black men in rural Louisiana. As police departments look for nonlethal ways to subdue out-of-control people, a big question is whether such devices reduce violence or can increase the likelihood of violence, even torture. The Pikes death appears to show that the combination of simmering racial tensions and insufficient police training can be lethal when injected with a 50,000-volt jolt. With some 260,000 units in the hands of law enforcement and no major federal regulation governing their use, cases like the one in Louisiana show unintended drawbacks of this particular tool of policing, says Thomas Luka, a defense attorney in Orlando.