Taser use limited at most UC campuses
Police officers on six UC campuses carry Taser guns, but UCLA appears to be alone in expressly allowing officers to stun not only violent suspects but those who are passively resisting their orders.
In interviews Tuesday, top officials at university police departments across the state stressed that officers should be given discretion when using Tasers but said they thought the weapons should be used primarily against suspects who posed a physical risk.
“They are not allowed to use it on a passive person,” Orville King, UC San Diego’s police chief, said of his officers. “It’s not to be used on a restrained person unless a person poses a threat of serious bodily injury.”
UCLA’s police rules allow officers to use Tasers on suspects engaging in passive resistance, which is what police said 23-year-old senior Mostafa Tabatabainejad was doing last week.
Tabatabainejad was repeatedly stunned with a Taser after he refused to show his student ID card to officers, and, according to authorities, wouldn’t leave Powell Library, went limp and asked others to join his resistance.
The Nov. 14 incident was recorded by another student on a cellphone camera and broadcast on TV newscasts and the website YouTube. Students held a march Friday to protest the officer’s action, and UCLA’s acting chancellor has ordered an independent investigation into the incident.
King said that in his department, having a detained person call for others to join his resistance in itself may not be justification to use a Taser.
“If it was simply requesting or verbally inciting others, I’m not certain whether or not that would be appropriate use of a Taser,” King said. “There have to be other elements ... kicking, jumping, fighting.”
Other police chiefs, who like King did not comment on the UCLA incident specifically, said their own department policies focus on using Tasers against combative suspects.
“It can only be used when it appears reasonable under the circumstances ... to restrain or arrest a violent or threatening suspect,” said UC Riverside Police Chief Michael Lane.
“We’re looking at someone that poses some sort of physical threat.”
UC Irvine Police Chief Paul Henisey said Taser use is “authorized when facing a violent or potentially violent individual.”
At UC Merced, Police Chief Rita Spaur said her officers would not deploy a Taser unless “it was the last means to protect themselves” or other people.
“If the person is self-destructive, dangerous or highly combative, that would be a time to use it,” said Spaur, whose 1-year-old department has not yet used a Taser on duty.
UCLA police purchased 16 Taser stun guns two years ago, at a cost of nearly $800 each, said Nancy Greenstein, UCLA’s director of police community services. The Daily Bruin, the student newspaper, reported at the time that police said the purchase was made to reduce injuries and prevent lawsuits.
The purchase came about a year after Terrence Duren, the UCLA police officer who used the Taser on the student last week, used a gun in October 2003 to shoot and wound a homeless man who had been in a campus study hall room.
Many law enforcement agencies said they valued Tasers as a nonlethal tool to disable suspects quickly and precisely. Batons don’t necessarily disable a suspect quickly and can cause contusions, and pepper spray can hit bystanders and police officers, while a Taser in most cases can quickly disable a hostile suspect without permanent harm.
At other UC campuses, Tasers have been used to disable violent suspects.
In 2004, UC Davis officers used the weapon to attempt to subdue a 26-year-old who, distraught over a breakup with his girlfriend, had brandished a gun at officers. Officers later fatally shot the man, who was not a student, after he fired his semiautomatic weapon at them; their response was found to be legally justifiable.
At UC San Diego, police have used a Taser to stun a drunk driver who refused to exit a vehicle and to subdue a man who had been pointing a switch-blade knife at a woman in a campus parking lot. Police shocked the man after they safely got the woman away from the suspect, King said.
Although UC Santa Barbara police aren’t equipped with Tasers, officers with the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, who oversee an adjacent community, carry the devices, and last year used a Taser on campus property after having been called in to help university police subdue someone, according to Sol Linver, a lieutenant with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
“With the use of the Tasers, we’ve seen less serious injuries to the people being arrested and less serious injuries to our officers,” Linver said.
UC Santa Barbara Capt. Michael Foster said the UCLA incident and letters coming into the chancellor’s office there have caused campus officials to reconsider a year-old proposal to buy Tasers for their police force, which have not yet been purchased due to a lack of funds.
The other three UC campuses, at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco, do not use Tasers.
The Santa Cruz campus decided against buying Tasers a year ago. “We’ve got a pretty mellow campus here,” Police Chief Mickey Aluffi said.
UCLA police are allowed to use Tasers on passive resisters as “a pain compliance technique,” Assistant Chief Jeff Young said last week. Officers can use the weapons after considering the potential injury to police and to the suspect, as well as the level of the suspect’s resistance and the need for a prompt resolution.
Also Tuesday, the lawyer Tabatabainejad hired last week, Stephen Yagman, said he was no longer representing the student.
Yagman, a high-profile civil rights lawyer who has handled numerous police brutality cases, had said he planned to file a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing UCLA police of “brutal excessive force” and false arrest.
Tabatabainejad did not show his ID card to library staff or police because he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance, Yagman had said. Police have said it is long-standing practice for students to show their ID cards after 11 p.m.
Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.