Being Homeless in Miami May Lead to a Tasering


Homeless repellant

The Miami New Times has investigated years of Taser use by police officers in South Florida and has found all sorts of problems. Contain your surprise. Reporter Michael E. Miller documents officers using them against the homeless and mentally ill to force compliance, not because the officers are being threatened in any way. And some of them are attempting to conceal their misuse of Tasers from their departments.

Miller's deep dive opens with the tale of a Miami Police officer using a Taser on a homeless man inside a Publix grocery store in order to intimidate him into staying away. The man was never arrested or charged with a crime. The officer never even filed a report about the incident. But a customer in the store witnessed what happened and filed a complaint with the police department.

From there Miller delves into the history of Tasers and their use, and more particularly their misuse. Miami police have used Tasers on 6-year-olds having temper tantrums, a 12-year-old girl skipping school, and many unarmed people who sometimes never even get charged with crimes. Miller notes that Miami, like the rest of the country, has seen a big drop in crime, but Taser use has remained steady since 2010 and fatal shootings by police have increased:

This statistic is troubling because Tasers were introduced with the promise of reducing deadly police-involved shootings, says Justin Mazzola, a researcher for Amnesty International.

"It hasn't really put a dent into when police are using their firearms," he says of national stats that mirror Miami's. "Tasers are being used in a myriad of incidents when normally use of force wouldn't even be necessary."

In a review of more than 100 police reports describing taserings, New Times found police regularly use their Tasers on nonviolent suspects simply for fleeing or "tensing."

In 72 of the cases New Times analyzed, the suspect was not armed. In 40 of the cases, charges were dropped or never even filed in the first place.  The incident with the homeless man was not an anomaly:

On Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, Miami Beach Police Officer Enrique Rios spotted a homeless man named Michael Franks on Lincoln Road asking passersby for change. When Rios told him to get lost, Franks told the cop, "Go fuck yourself," and then resisted getting handcuffed. Rios wrote in a report that he "was forced to drive-stun the defendant for approximately three separate cycles in order to gain the defendant's compliance."

This appears to violate MBPD's rules because Franks was neither fleeing nor physically threatening. Instead, he was tasered simply to force him to comply with orders -- a Taser use specifically banned in 2004. (Franks was convicted of panhandling and paid a $50 fine. The resisting arrest charge was dropped.)

Miami Police, meanwhile, have tasered at least a half-dozen homeless men in the past year, mostly for shoplifting food or clothes. On September 16, an officer zapped a homeless man twice for refusing to leave José Martí Park, where he was sleeping. A week later, another MPD officer tasered a homeless man who had wandered into Publix demanding food.

The use of Tasers in the Miami area has gotten much more attention since the killing of Israel Hernandez, an 18-year-old graffiti tagger who died as a direct result of getting tasered by officers in 2013 following a chase. Miller noted in 2013 that the officer who tasered Hernandez had a history of problem behavior. In this more recent story he points out the officer, Vincent Miller, is quick to turn to the Taser:

Many of Miller's taserings were worrying. Five times Miller had tasered homeless or poor people for shoplifting. On May 24, 2011, for instance, he shocked a man who had walked into a Target barefoot and then refused to take off the $19.99 Pro Spirit sneakers he had put on. On January 30, 2013, Miller confronted Zacharia Brown, a 31-year-old stealing ravioli and vitamins from the Publix on Biscayne Boulevard at 18th Street. When Brown fled, Miller chased him and shot him in the back with his Taser.

Read more statistics and horror stories about how police use their Tasers in Miami here.

(Hat tip to CharlesWT)

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  1. Taser use has definitely turned into a compliance tool for lazy law enforcement professionals who can't be bothered to engage a subject of interest for more than a few minutes, if even that long.

    1. Getting home safely also means getting home on time. Which means one minute late to get the full hour (or is it 4?) o overtime.

    2. It has always been a compliance tool. I have been to a number of "use of force continuum" lectures and it came as a surprise to me but cops are taught that once there is a threat to THEIR lives they move to lethal force.

      The whole "overuse of Tasers" thing will gain no traction because it's based on a complete misunderstanding of the police protocol. People keep complaining about how they are being used when there was no danger and the cops are like "no duh, if there was danger we would have shot it."

  2. Power to the people!

    Literally. Taser power, delivered personally.

  3. Give me your Agonizer!

  4. Seems to me like the fine knight showed marvelous restraint. The peasant failed to obey. At that point his life was forfeit, and shooting him would have been totally justified. By only torturing the serf instead of killing him, the king's man extended mercy to the poor peasant.

    1. Yes, that homeless peasant was probably hoping to be arrested so he could get three hots and a cot. Now he has learned his lesson, that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and will recognize the error of his ways, get a real job, a mortgage, wife, 2.5 kids, dog (to remind himself to always bow to the police), and maybe even a job working for the government as a confidential informant.

  5. Tensing? If you don't relax I'm gonna tase you. I can see you getting tense. Stop getting tense!

  6. On January 30, 2013, Miller confronted Zacharia Brown, a 31-year-old stealing ravioli and vitamins from the Publix on Biscayne Boulevard at 18th Street. When Brown fled, Miller chased him and shot him in the back with his Taser.

    Does anyone else, NOT see a problem with this particular instance?

    The others are over the line, but as a property owner, I'm pretty sure I want those stealing my shit arrested. Preferably in a non-lethal fashion. That incident sounds like a legitimate usage of the weapon.

    1. It's hard to say for sure on several of them without more information. Even if a cop is justified in using a taser, how he used it may still make it a police brutality incident. Also, several of the urban outdoorsmen may have been trespassing( from the article it seems likely, but isn't verified) which would be cause for arrest if they refused to leave. It wouldn't be sufficient cause to use a taser per se, but could easily lead to a situation where it was warranted. There's a general lack of detail hear( somewhat understandable since it covers several incidents). Homeless guy walks into a grocery store and gets tased, I doubt the cop was lying in ambush behind the shopping carts, what else happened. And again, even if the cop were justified in using a taser, he still could have used it in an excessive and cruel way which would be unjustified no matter the circumstances.

  7. my co-worker's step-mother makes $82 /hour on the laptop . She has been fired from work for ten months but last month her pay was $13096 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check here........

  8. Tasers save lives. And a few extra jolts will more often than not get a confession.

  9. If you ever lived in Florida you would know why this isn't a news item. It might be news for the rest of the world tho.

  10. More from Florida


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