Officer Michael Slager of the North Charleston, S.C., Police Department used a Taser at least 14 times during his five years on the force before he fatally shot Walter Scott, a black man who fled a traffic stop, the New York Times reports. His career provides a glimpse into the issue of complaints and litigation in several cities about the frequent use of Tasers by police officers. North Charleston residents say overuse of the device is a major concern. Of the 1,238 “various uses of force” that North Charleston officers used from 2010 to 2014, Tasers were involved 825 times.
“They shoot people with Tasers for anything in South Carolina,” said Robert Phillips, a lawyer involved in a lawsuit that accused the North Charleston police of shooting and wounding a 17-year-old boy after an officer missed him with a Taser. The city has long defended its use of Tasers. In a 2009 court filing, lawyers for the city wrote: “Tasers are intended to be used as a nonlethal use of force.” Taser International, the manufacturer of the electrical weapons, says more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies have purchased the devices, which are used about 900 times a day. Although Tasers have been credited with preventing many deaths, they have also been faulted as tools that are susceptible to misuse, researchers and law enforcement officials said. Amnesty International blames Tasers for more than 500 deaths, while the manufacturer says “numerous independent studies” have found Tasers to be “generally safe and effective.”