Following the death of a Florida teen, a civil rights group founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is calling on the state's governor ban the so-called "non-lethal" Taser.
Calling application of the weapon "electrocution without prosecution," the Southern Christian Leadership Conference wants a temporary stay on all Taser use by police until a more-strict policy on their use is put into place. The move is a response to the killing of Victor D. Steen, a 17-year-old black male who died after being dragged by a police vehicle in Pensacola, Florida on Oct. 3.
Steen died after officer Jerald Ard, 35, attempted to Taser him while driving his squad car. According to a release by the Pensacola Police Department, just after 1 a.m. Ard attempted to stop and question Steen near a construction site. Steen, who was on bicycle, did not stop, so the officer gave chase and turned on his lights.
The police department said Ard attempted to Taser Steen from behind the wheel of his car, but missed. The department adds that Steen then "crashed his bicycle and fell into the path of Ard’s vehicle. The cruiser came to rest on a curb in the parking lot."
The police vehicle reportedly came to a stop some 15-25 feet from the point of initial contact with the boy. And while police maintain the Taser shot missed, "some witnesses say the Taser connected while Ard was behind the wheel," a Florida CBS affiliate noted.
"Initial 'exam findings do not mention any Taser probes on the body,' said Jeff Martin, director of the medical examiners office," on its Web site.
The incident caused Pensacola police to restrict the use of Tasers while operating a motor vehicle. It was widely reported that Pensacola police banned the use of Tasers while driving, but The Pensacola News Journal reported that a memo by the assistant chief did no such thing.
"Simmons' memo says that officers are expected to act safely when dealing with suspects who resist and use only 'the amount of force reasonable and necessary to deal with the situation,'" the paper noted. "While shooting a Taser from a moving vehicle is not specifically prohibited, such use is not consistent with this standard," the memo reportedly reads.
Following weeks of protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Florida Governor Charlie Crist agreed to meet with representatives from the group, who pressured him for stronger rules governing police use of the weapon.
Ard was was placed on paid leave after the police department said it would be investigating Steen's death. However, according to a Florida ABC News affiliate, the officer has returned to work, reassigned to a desk.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference has kept an archive of local media coverage on Victor Steen's death.
Tasers have caused an estimated 450+ deaths in the United States since 2001.
This video is from WKRG CBS News 5, broadcast Oct. 5, 2009.