Two Deaths in One day Following Multiple Officer-Related Shootings in Utah

Multiple Officer-Related Shootings in Utah over the past couple weeks have resulted in the deaths of five individuals, two of those deaths taking place today.

Officer-Related Shooting

Photo by: Dean Strelau

Early this morning, officers were responding to a domestic disturbance when they came upon 26 year old Jason Whittle who was holding a knife to his mother’s throat. Officers shot and killed Whittle, saving the mother from her son’s threatening behavior with a weapon that turned out to be a butter knife.

Another officer-related shooting

Also taking place today was the death of another Utah resident who was shot by police. A few days before he succumbed to his injuries, police shot 61 year old James Lyle Kuehn after he was suspected to be the person of interest in a robbery of a fast-food restaurant in Kearns. Kuehn was said to be in dangerous possession of a small knife. Police located him nearby and after tazing him, opened fire with what eventually turned out to be lethal shots. It is unknown at this time whether or not Kuehn displayed that small knife before officers opened fire.

And more…

The deaths of Whittle and Kuehn today are added to the growing number of “shot by police” fatalities that have taken place within the last couple weeks throughout Utah. Also killed by Utah police recently were:

• 23 year old Andrey Tkachenko, a parolee shot and killed by Metro Gang Unit on October 18. (unknown if he was armed);
• 17 year old Jacob E. Albrethsen, shot and killed by officers responding to a domestic disturbance on October 12. (Albrethsen was armed with a knife);
• 22 year old Diamonte Riviore, killed by police following a domestic violence call on October 10 (Riviore was also armed with a knife).

Was deadly force needed?

One common theme among the five officer-related shooting deaths lately was the question of whether or not any of these shootings were necessary. Did officers truly fear that their or a victim’s lives were in danger when the knives involved in 4 out of 5 of the shootings were displayed? Was it necessary to shoot to kill? Were the tazers used in a few of those incidents essentially “ineffective” or did officers react too quickly in a nerve-racking situation? With the tension continuing to rise between law enforcement and the public they are sworn to protect, it is imperative that those behind the badge who go through extensive training are an example to others of how we should react when faced with these high-stress situations.

Tasers and Unjustified Use of Force by Police

Police officers who are hesitant about using their firearms will reach for their Tasers to subdue a potentially dangerous suspect; however there is ample controversy over the safety of this alternative weapon and the unjustified use of force by police.

Shot from Behind

A video out of Fairfax, Virginia has gone viral after it shows an officer’s unjustified use of force when he uses a Taser on a suspect without cause. In the video an officer Tasers a man who is fully cooperating with his arrest. Following through with the officer’s request, the man is shown attempting to place his hands on the hood of the officer’s car. Just as his hands touch the car, the officer shoots the man in the back with the Taser’s electrodes. Shocked, emotionally and literally, the man falls to the ground. Unknown to the attending officer, a bystander was videotaping the unjustified use of force with a cellphone. The officer’s needless use of the Taser is currently under investigation.

Better than a bullet

Photo by: cea

Photo by: cea

Tasers, otherwise known as stun guns, were designed to give police officers a safer alternative to control suspects who were resisting arrest or behaving in a threatening manner. Positively, after the introduction of Tasers in the police force, death and injury has plummeted for police officers and those being arrested. This decrease in overall harm may lead many officers to believe that it is tolerable to use Tasers in otherwise avoidable circumstances. Although Tasers may be safer than firearms, they are still extremely dangerous. While they were originally considered to be fairly harmless, recent serious injuries and even deaths by Tasers has made authorities reevaluate the use of this supposedly safer alternative.

A 50,000 volt warning

Tasers that are designed for police departments pack a punch of nearly 50,000 volts. In many cases, as the electrodes from the Taser hit the suspect’s body, the only effect on the suspect is the loss of muscle control. This usually results in the suspect falling to the ground while their muscles twitch and spasm. Unfortunately, in other situations, this deliverance of a high voltage shock can cause cardiac problems such as an irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest, restricted breathing and even death. Although many who have complications from Tasers had a pre-existing condition, that is not the case for everyone.

“Less-lethal” Tasers should be used sparingly

Since Tasers were originally thought to be non-lethal, officers began using them in several situations, oftentimes when not needed. Now that the dangers of Tasers are well known, police departments should be trained on how to distinguish when the use of Tasers are completely essential. A few settings when the use of Tasers should be questioned are:

• When approaching suspects who are unarmed.
• During attempts to arrest someone who appears to be under the influence of drugs, which could make them more susceptible to cardiac or respiratory difficulties.
• Anytime a suspect is cooperating with police.
• During altercations with the elderly who are commonly predisposed to many cardiac conditions.
• When dealing with children!

Beyond the unjustified use of force with Tasers, they should also not be used around anything flammable, during interrogations, when there is not a clear shot of the suspect, or when an innocent bystander is too close to the situation.

Avoid Taser Use

Tasers, firearms, clubs, and other instruments of violence used by police should only be applicable when no other option would suffice. Likewise, those persons in situations where they are dealing with police should educate themselves on the potential side effects of Tasers, and do everything within their control to not become a victim. By fully cooperating with police during a potential arrest or investigation, the likelihood of Tasers being used will hopefully decrease. For questions related to the unjustified use of force regarding Tasers during an arrest, speak with a criminal defense attorney.