Sorrell: Brattleboro police “blew it” in use of Tasers

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(Host) According to Attorney General Bill Sorrell, police officers in Brattleboro "blew it" when they used Tasers on two peaceful protesters last summer.

Sorrell says there’s definitely a place in law enforcement for Tasers but the Brattleboro case isn’t one of them.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Sorrell has some first hand experience with Tasers. Last year he had the Burlington Police Department tase him for 5 seconds with 50,000 volts of electricity so he could better understand the impact of this weapon. He describes the incident as the longest 5 seconds of his life.

Sorrell reviewed the use of Tasers by the Brattleboro Police Department in two instances last summer. One case involved two protesters who had chained themselves to a concrete barrel and a second case concerned a juvenile in the custody of the state, Sorrell concluded:

(Sorrell) "I’m sorry to report that the Brattleboro Police blew it in both cases in our view based on the evidence that we had to review. They should not have tased the two protesters even one time let alone multiple times for each of them."

(Kinzel) Sorrell says 28 law enforcement agencies in Vermont currently use Tasers and he thinks there should be a clear guideline on their use – the offender must pose a risk to themselves or to other people:

(Sorrell) "Now clearly if they’re just peacefully protesting in the middle of a roadway they’re not presenting a risk of harm to themselves…but if they’re blocking access in an driveway or whatever to a fire department that wants to get to a building that’s on fire well they might be peacefully protesting but they are representing a very real risk of harm to others."

(Kinzel) Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tromblay says he views Tasers as a key tool that’s available to police officers when they’re handling difficult situations.

(Tromblay) "That if implemented and used appropriately, the electronic control device is an effective tool in helping us deal with persons who are actively aggressive or actively resistant and persons who are putting themselves, the officers or the public in danger."

(Kinzel) Should all local police departments use Tasers? Tromblay says that’s a decision that needs to be answered at the local level:

(Tromblay)"I think that the dialogue has to start within the community itself the police department and the community together deciding what appropriate tools are there for the police."

(Kinzel) Attorney General Sorrell reviewed every case when law enforcement officials used a Taser in the last year and he concluded that there were only one or two other instances where he questioned the judgment of the police officers.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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