By Jason Green
Palo Alto Daily News
PALO ALTO, Calif. — The Palo Alto Police Department is no longer using Tasers to stop fleeing bicyclists following an incident involving a 16-year-old boy in 2012, according to an independent police auditor's report released Wednesday.
The report by Michael Gennaco and Stephen Connolly concurred with a police department internal review that concluded a stun gun should not have been used to try and stop the boy.
"Had the attempted use been successful, the result may have been unduly serious injury," Gennaco and Connolly said.
The incident began when police saw the boy ride a bicycle through a stop sign, according to the report. A training officer and his trainee eventually gave chase and split up in an attempt to stop the boy, with the training officer pursuing him on foot and the trainee remaining in a patrol car.
The training officer fired his Taser at the boy as he rode at and past him, according to the report. The trainee then drove up beside the boy, braked and blocked the boy, causing him to fall to the ground. The report said there was evidence the bicycle collided with the patrol car.
While the trainee struggled to place the boy in handcuffs, the training officer placed his Taser on the boy's neck and back area. According to the report, the training officer said he would activate it if the boy did not comply. The trainee was then able to place the boy in handcuffs.
The boy told an on-scene supervisor that the Taser had struck him on the left wrist but did not affect him. He did, however, suffer an abrasion and neck pain, according to the report.
Police later learned that the bicycle had been stolen and cited the boy after taking him to a hospital for treatment.
The internal review into the incident concluded that the officers were justified in using some level of force to stop the boy but not Tasers, according to the report. The trainee's actions fell within department policy.
"The review noted that since the Taser is designed to incapacitate the individual, a cyclist who loses muscle control as a result of a successful Taser deployment could foreseeably end up injured because of a fall," Gennaco and Connolly said.
The police department is now training its officers not to use Tasers to stop cyclists or any "persons in motion."
The incident has also sparked a discussion within the police department about how to best apprehend fleeing cyclists. Both the internal review and the independent police auditor's report noted that it is dangerous to use a patrol car to pursue, block or cut off a person on a bicycle.
Gennaco and Connolly said they reviewed a case in a different agency in which a fleeing cyclist was killed by a patrol car.
"This is a tactical question that many agencies have struggles with, but have not clearly resolved," they said.
The independent police auditors said they were impressed by the internal review, but they identified several issues that needed further investigation. Among them was the fact that the trainee had not been interviewed.
"It is always critical to interview officers who used or witnessed force as part of any thorough review," they said. "The fact that PAPD did not interview an involved officer left a significant gap in this force investigation."
Gennaco and Connolly also criticized the police department for not formally following up on the boy's allegations that the training officer had used profanity and threatening language. When contacted about the issue, the police department said it had counseled the officer, according to the report.
In addition, the independent police auditors found that the training officer had not issued a warning prior to firing his Taser as required by department policy. His explanation for not issuing a warning demonstrated a "clear misunderstanding" about the reason for the requirement, according to the report. The police department said the officer would be retrained.
The report noted that no other police officer fired a Taser in Palo Alto in 2012.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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