by Bob Quasius
Watching the videos of Martin “Marty” Atencio was very painful and disturbing. Our condolences to the family on his passing.
After watching these disturbing videos over and over, it seemed that as the family alleges, excessive force was indeed used, so I asked myself, what are the best practices for the use of tasers by police? I don’t have a background in law enforcement, so I searched for guidelines on the use of tasers, called “Conducted Energy Devices,” or CEDs, by law enforcement, and found these April 2011 taser guidelines from Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
One does not need a background in law enforcement to read these guidelines and recognize the excessive use of force used against this man. According to the Phoenix police, who arrested Atencio, they had no problems at all with him prior to arriving at the MCSO jail. His family and attorney said he suffered from bipolar disorder, which explains his odd behavior before he was arrested, and this jailhouse photo from the MCSO. His attorney claims he was tased at least four times.
In this video from YouTube, we can see the confrontation as it transitioned from an apparent non-violent argument to full fledged struggle initiated by jailers.
There’s also this video clip from Channel 10 News Phoenix:
Now, referring to the Taser guidelines, several violations of the guidelines immediately stand out.
13. Personnel should be trained to use an ECW for one standard cycle (five seconds) and then evaluate the situation to determine if subsequent cycles are necessary. Training protocols should emphasize that multiple applications or continuous cycling of an ECW resulting in an exposure longer than 15 seconds (whether continuous or cumulative) may increase the risk of serious injury or death and should be avoided.
21. Personnel should use an ECW for one standard cycle (five seconds) and then evaluate the situation to determine if subsequent cycles are necessary. Personnel should consider that exposure to the ECW for longer than 15 seconds (whether due to multiple applications or continuous cycling) may increase the risk of death or serious injury. Any subsequent applications should be independently justifiable, and the risks should be weighed against other force options.
From the Phoenix New Times:
Sources have stated that doctors at St. Joe’s believe Atencio may have been Tased as many as six times while in MCSO custody.
Clearly multiple use of the Taser goes well outside the guidelines, and can explain the cardiac arrest.
Also from the guidelines:
25. ECWs should be used only against subjects who are exhibiting active aggression or who are actively resisting in a manner that, in the officer’s judgment, is likely to result in injuries to themselves or others. ECWs should not be used against a passive subject.
The guidelines define “active aggression” as
Active aggression: A threat or overt act of an assault (through physical or verbal means), coupled with the present ability to carry out the threat or assault, which reasonably indicates that an assault or injury to any person is imminent.
From the video, it seems clear the large group of officers has Atencio at first cornered, and then completely restrained and under control, and certainly not in a position to inflict harm on the officer. At one point there were 15 jailers involved! It’s questionable whether they released him after using the taser the first time, to see if he was still a “threat.”
In another video from before the confrontation, two Phoenix police are seen bringing Atencio into the room handcuffed and handcuffing him to the bench, and does not show any resistance at all. It’s not clear when or why his handcuffs would have been removed, but they were.
Further, from the guidelines
34. Personnel should be aware that there is a higher risk of sudden death in subjects under the influence of drugs and/or exhibiting symptoms associated with excited delirium.
As the Institute for Prevention of In-Custody Death (www.ipicd.com) teaches that “Excited delirium is a medical emergency disguised as a police problem.”
It probably wasn’t known at the time whether Atencio was on drugs, but certainly he was demonstrating “excited delirium”, an added reason not to use a taser on him, especially when a large group of jailers clearly already had complete control over him. In fact, there were so many jailers on the scene that not all of them could help restrain Atencio, and some hovered around confrontation scene. If there are that many jailers present and they are holding his arms and feet, then why taser him at all?
Also from the guidelines:
36. All subjects who have been exposed to ECW application should receive a medical evaluation by emergency medical responders in the field or at a medical facility. Subjects who have been exposed to prolonged application (i.e., more than 15 seconds) should be transported to an emergency department for evaluation.
Clearly, by leaving him unattended in a cell for 9 minutes the guidelines were violated yet again, and when considering Atencio was not moving there was compelling reason to bring this man to an emergency room immediately!
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) already has a horrible reputation for brutality, and Maricopa County Taxpayers have paid out nearly $50 million in judgments and settlements for wrongful deaths. We blogged about this recently, posting an interview with Michael Manning, who is now the attorney for the Atencio family.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio has had years to clean up his department and clearly is not. Time for Joe Arpaio to resign!