Death a warning shot on risks of Taser use

Nothing can undo what happened to 17-year-old Darryl Turner. He died in March of cardiac arrest after being shot with a Taser gun by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer.

Yet police can and must rein in the use of these widely carried weapons until their medical risks are more fully known. CMPD should use what it learned from a review of this tragedy to set stricter limits on when, how and on whom Tasers are used. Specifically, the department should prohibit multiple shots and prolonged shots with Tasers and look carefully at whether they should be used, period, on teenagers.

Police last week released details from a review of the confrontation between Mr. Turner and police officer Jerry Dawson Jr. They also released a surveillance video showing that confrontation and some of the events leading up to it. The review concluded that Officer Dawson, a 15-year veteran on the force, acted within the guidelines when he decided to use his Taser on Mr. Turner. But it found he broke departmental rules when he delivered a continuous 37-second shock. He has been suspended for five days without pay.

This is a painful time for Mr. Turner's family. Their loss is irreplaceable. It's assuredly a painful time for a seasoned police officer, too, who must live with the consequences of an error made in the line of duty.

Yet it's a wake-up call for police about Tasers – popular, effective and usually non-lethal tools.

A June study by U.S. Department of Justice cautioned law enforcement agencies about repeatedly shocking suspects with stun guns. The study found that many of the deaths they reviewed are associated with repeated shocks. It also warns agencies the medical risks of Tasers are not known, particularly on youths, and urges agencies not to use them whenever possible on small children, people with heart disease, the elderly and pregnant women.

Yet many agencies in North Carolina have no policies limiting the number of shocks or to protect particularly vulnerable groups, according to the N.C. Taser Project. That needs to change, and CMPD should lead the way.

CMPD's policies are being reviewed after Mr. Turner's death. These questions should be included:

Do police officers lean too readily on Tasers rather than reasoning with suspects?

Do guidelines leave too much up to the discretion of officers?

Has training kept up as Tasers have become more powerful and sophisticated?

Mr. Turner's death is proof more must be done to protect the public. Tasers ought to be used sparingly and with strict, consistent limits.