New Uses For Electro-Shock Torture


William Grigg
LRC Blog
June 4, 2009

A police officer assigned to prowl the halls of Pennsylvania’s Penn Hills High School came across a student using his cell phone, a violation of school rules except in an emergency.

The officer was ignored when he told the student to turn off the phone. So he ordered the student to the principal’s office. According to Police Chief Howard Burton, “The student resisted, pushed the officer. The officer, defending himself, took out his stun gun and did a drive stun.”

A “drive stun” consists of placing the Taser directly to the subject’s body, temporarily immobilizing him. The student fell to the floor, where, after he continued “resisting” — one has to admire his tenacity — he was handcuffed.

All of this was less disruptive than the student’s cell phone use, one supposes.

After the student complained of dizziness and a headache, he was taken to a hospital, where at least he was spared a few hours in the government-run conformity gulag.

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In addition to their use as Pavlovian instruments of pain compliance in government schools, Tasers now may be employed to extract DNA samples from uncooperative citizens, according to a Niagara County Judge.

Last September 29, police applied the Taser to local resident Ryan S. Smith, who was handcuffed and in custody at the police station, in order to compel him to cooperate in their effort to obtain a sample. A previous sample had been sent to the wrong lab and spoiled.

Apparently, somebody had informed Smith — a suspect in a shooting and robbery at a local service station — of the potential for self-incrimination, because he resisted the second attempt. An officer overcame Smith’s resistance by treating him to a “drive stun” charge.

Judge Sara Sheldon Sperazza, who is presiding over the trial, had ordered the DNA sample ex parte. After Smith’s refusal to cooperate, he was arrested on a contempt of court charge.

Now, in response to a defense challenge, Judge Sperazza has upheld her own exceptionally dubious order, ruling that police can employ electro-shock torture to extort DNA samples as long as this is not done “maliciously, or to an excessive extent, or with resulting injury.”

“They have now given the Niagara Falls police discretion to Taser anybody anytime they think it’s reasonable,” protested defense lawyer Patrick M. Balkin. “Her decision says you can enforce a court order by force. If you extrapolate that, we no longer have to have child support hearings; you can just Taser the parent.”

Balkin is certainly correct about the logic of Sperazza’s self-serving decree. But it’s useful to extrapolate just a little bit further: If police are now authorized to use pain compliance to obtain self-incriminating evidence, why not restore other supposedly benign “interrogation” methods — such as waterboarding, for instance?


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