Why are students getting Tasered on video?

Hey, campus cops, have you heard of YouTube? Anytime you Taser a kid, it's going to be on video!

By Farhad Manjoo

Published September 18, 2007 6:53PM (EDT)

By now you've likely seen the above video of University of Florida cops subduing 21-year-old Andrew Meyer with a Taser after the student asked Sen. John Kerry a few niggling questions (War Room has Kerry's response). Astute followers of YouTube know this wasn't the first time campus cops have been captured getting Taser-happy. Below, I've compiled previous clips of such incidents.

Don't university cops have YouTube, too? These people work in the most visible environments in the world, where every witness has both a cellphone cam and a broadband connection and knows how to use them. You'd suppose that after just one of these well-publicized incidents, every campus P.D. in the nation would decide that whatever advantage there might be in using the Taser, the inevitable fallout is too much.

I called up the University of Florida Police Department to ask about its Taser policies; I'm waiting for a callback.

In the aftermath of the Taser incident at UCLA last fall -- when a student named Mostafa Tabatabainejad was stunned multiple times after he refused to show his I.D. card at a campus library -- the university asked the independent Police Assessment Resource Center to investigate.

PARC concluded: "While the student should have simply obeyed the order to produce the card, and by not doing so brought trouble upon himself, the police response was substantially out of proportion to the provocation. There were many ways in which the UCLAPD officers involved could have handled this incident competently, professionally, and with minimal force."

The group also criticized UCLA's Taser policies as "unduly permissive, giving the police unnecessary latitude, and are inconsistent with the policies of other universities and leading police departments across the country, including other University of California campuses, the LAPD, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD)." (The PDF of the report can be found here.)

Police at UCLA stunned Tabatabainejad using the device's "drive stun" mode, and in the video it seems that Florida campus cops used the same mode on Meyer.

In typical Taser operation, the gun shoots out electrode darts at a target. The darts incapacitate the target. Drive stun mode, on the other hand, is meant for close contact. There are no shooting electrodes -- the gun is placed directly on a target's skin. Drive stun does not incapacitate a target. He merely feels a great deal of pain that officers hope will induce compliance.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Taser International, the company that makes the device, warns officers that drive stun mode can lead to "prolonged struggles" with targets and that "it is in these types of scenarios that officers are often facing accusations of excessive force." (I called Taser with questions about its stun guidelines -- when I hear back, I'll update this post.)

Nov. 14, 2006: UCLA police stun Mostafa Tabatabainejad

Feb. 9, 2007: San Diego State campus cops stun Joshua Gandy for skateboarding on campus.

This next one's different. A Santa Clara University security guard Tasers a student who asks for it, literally. Doesn't speak too highly of campus policies.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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