And tasers don’t just kill the people they are fired at.
We have written here previously, and here also, about our concerns regarding the increasing use of tasers by the nation’s police departments. We feel the weapons are too ripe for abuse and misuse to justify their use by police. We believe, as do many human rights organizations, that they can be used as weapons of torture, and that they can be lethal. We believe that many police officers, whether out of fear, ignorance, a desire to punish, or for their own amusement, have, and will continue to misuse the weapon.
Last Thursday, New York City police tasered an emotionally disturbed, naked man perched on a building ledge, who then fell to his death on the sidewalk below. Iman Morales (also spelled as “Inman” and “Iam” Morales in news reports), 35 years old, and a resident of Brooklyn, had fled from his apartment via the fire escape, screaming “you’re gonna kill me” to the approaching police. He was perched on the ledge, armed with nothing more than a fluorescent light bulb when he was shot with the taser. If you’ve ever handled fluorescent tubes, you probably know just how fragile they are. We can’t imagine anyone causing much damage with one.
No doubt Mr. Morales was having a bad day, and the police that responded to the call were about to have a bad day. The catalyst that turned a bad day into a tragic day was the availability of a taser, and the apparently misguided eagerness to use it. We doubt any police officer in their right mind would have even considered pulling their 9mm or their .38 and opening fire, yet the use of a taser was apparently considered acceptable, at least to the ranking officer at the scene. The end result was the same, nonetheless.
And yes, of course you can see amateur video of the incident on youtube, proving once again that Andy Warhol was correct. Here’s more news coverage posted on youtube. (We think that venues such as youtube have become the 21st century’s court of public opinion. Little of consequence occurs these days which doesn’t quickly show up on a youtube video. It also gives an ordinary citizen as much of a voice as the most powerful media outlets. Is the Internet great, or what?)
Morales’ mother, Olga Negron, had called police seeking help for her disturbed son, who reportedly had a history of psychiatric problems. Instead of the help his mother was seeking, quite tragically, Mr. Morales got exactly what he feared from the police. Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy, or was Mr. Morales just an excellent judge of character? We’ll never know.
New York City Police Department brass have acknowledged the tasering of Mr. Morales, under the circumstances, appears to have violated department guidelines on the use of the weapon. We think it violated common sense, human decency, good police work and the law. Lieutenant Michael Pigott, the 46-year-old police officer with 21 years on the force, who ordered the use of the taser against Mr. Morales, was stripped of his gun and shield, and placed on desk duty. Nicholas Marchesona, the police officer who actually fired the Taser was also put on desk duty but kept his gun and badge, and, we assume, his taser.
This morning, on the day that Mr. Morales was to be buried, and less than a week after the deadly incident, Michael Pigott, the police lieutenant who ordered the use of the taser against Iman Morales, committed suicide (also see WCBS coverage of the suicide). Since the homicide last week, Mr. Pigott had told reporters that he was “truly sorry for what happened” to Iman Morales. This New York Times story provides some background information about Lt. Pigott.
Did guilt drive Mr. Pigott to commit suicide? Did the public shame of having video of the incident show up on youtube play a role? A suicide note reportedly mentioned concern about facing charges for his role in Mr. Morales’ death. We will probably never know for certain what drove him to take his own life, or for that matter, what possessed him to order the inappropriate use of the taser against a disturbed individual who posed little threat to anybody but himself. We think it’s fair to say that both Mr. Morales, and Mr. Pigott were killed by a taser, even if that won’t be the proximate cause of death listed on either death certificate. (A physician once told us that death certificates often fail to accurately identify the true cause of death.)
There are many who still believe the taser is a non-lethal weapon. Has anyone asked the Pigott family or the Morales family if they believe that?
From all accounts we’ve read by people that knew them, both Mr. Morales and Mr. Pigott were decent men. Had it not been for the terribly misguided decision to arm New York City police with tasers, both men would likely be alive today. That is the real tragedy.
How many dead bodies need to pile up on American streets, before our government acknowledges the fact that the taser, and similar devices, are indeed lethal weapons ? Our laws should treat the taser as a lethal weapon, regardless of who is pulling the trigger.
– Routing By Rumor
P.S. – Here’s an article by another WordPress blogger, that details the taser death of a man by police at an airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His crime appears to be that he could not speak English, which seems to be a capital offense in Canada (with the exception of Quebec).