ACLU: Ashland police 'misused' Tasers

The American Civil Liberties Union believes Ashland Police erred in five of the six instances it used Tasers since 2004, the civil rights organization said in a report to be released today.

The ACLU said a January 2006 incident in which , a 24-year-old Southern Oregon University student, died after overdosing on prescription drugs and being electrocuted by Ashland police was an "extreme case of misuse of a Taser."

The report says, "Given Hanson's weakened state, it is clear that he could have been subdued without the Taser."

David Fidanque, the executive director of the Oregon chapter of the ACLU, will be in Ashland today at 1:30 p.m. at the Headwaters building on Fourth Street, to announce the findings of its report.

The ACLU report comes out just days before Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness was to address the Ashland City Council about recommendations from the PERF report, a look at APD procedures by an outside consultant. The PERF report recommended APD purchase more Tasers, as well as amend its existing Taser policy.

Holderness has already written a draft version of a new Taser policy, and he plans to ask the council for permission to buy more Tasers at an upcoming council meeting.

The new policy, Holderness said, "will be quite a bit more restrictive."

He said the new threshold for when a Taser is appropriate is when there is an "ominous threat to an officer," such as if someone is swinging a bat at an officer. The previous policy said officers could use Tasers if a suspect was displaying "active resistance," Holderness said.

The old policy was written, Holderness said, when there was less evidence about the effect of Tasers on people with medical conditions. He said recent data suggests Tasers could be dangerous to use on people whose may have an increased heart rate.

Holderness worked with the ACLU on its report and said he appreciates their input, although he doesn't always agree with its conclusions.

The ACLU report resulted from the death of Hanson. A coroner's report labelled his death a suicide, but the ACLU thinks an outside investigation should have been completed.

"A case that results in death is momentous, and should not be left in the files with unresolved doubts remaining at large in the community," reads the report. Since Hanson's death, "SOU students and many others in the Ashland community have been concerned about the use of this electrical weapon."

Tasers are a weapon that incapacitates a person with an electric charge. Police often call them "less than lethal" tools, while the ACLU calls them "less lethal."

The ACLU said APD was correct to use a Taser in a incident in which a man outside of a local bar after an apparent fight.

"The officers 'were unable to pull his arm behind his back as he kept his arms stiff at his sides,'" the report said. The man, who was also pepper-sprayed was "apparently ... able to walk toward the street as we held onto him."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or .

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