Police Abuse

LAPD Officers Tased a Confused, Terrified Man Who Then Died, All Over a Minor Car Collision

Body camera footage shows precisely why some people don’t trust police to respond appropriately to nonviolent incidents.


A man died earlier this month after being Tased six times in less than a minute by Los Angeles police during a traffic incident. Now activists are demanding answers and changes to how, or even whether, police should respond to these types of calls.

Body camera footage released a week ago from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) shows Keenan Darnell Anderson, 31, in pretty bad mental shape when police showed up at the scene of a car crash at a busy Venice intersection on January 3. According to the LAPD, officers were responding to a call of a hit-and-run, and witnesses said Anderson, driving a BMW, was responsible for the crash. Anderson was a 10th-grade English teacher in Washington, D.C., visiting his family in Los Angeles over the holiday break.

When an officer on a motorcycle first arrives on the scene, body camera footage shows Anderson wandering in the intersection, and the officer orders him over to the curb. Anderson responds erratically saying, "Somebody's trying to kill me. Somebody's trying to kill me, sir." As the officer attempts to get Anderson against a wall, he instead drops to his knees and repeats, "I didn't mean to, sir." The officer calls it in as a possible case of driving under the influence and requests additional officers. Anderson again insists that somebody is trying to kill him and that somebody was going to try to "put stuff" in his car.

There is a 7-minute cut in the body camera footage after the officer convinces Anderson to just sit down. Footage resumes with Anderson getting back up and eventually running away. His hands are in the air, and he doesn't appear armed. He's clearly afraid of the officer and doesn't want to be in a place where other people can't see him. A bystander can be heard nearby saying that she's watching him in an apparent attempt to reassure him. He accuses the officer of putting a "thing" on him: "You're making me hot." As the officer pleads with him to return to the curb, he runs into the intersection.

The officer jumps back on his motorcycle and chases him briefly (sirens on), finding him in the middle of the street just on the other side of the intersection. There, the officer harshly commands him to the ground and orders him on his stomach. He sits on the ground but is slow to comply with the officer's instructions.

Additional officers arrive and pile on Anderson, forcing him to the ground. He begs and pleads for help, at one point yelling "C Lo is trying to kill me." They order him to stop and threaten to Tase him if he doesn't turn over. Eventually, an officer does just that. According to the LAPD's account, the officer Tased Anderson six times for a total of 42 seconds. They finally manage to detain and handcuff him. He was subsequently placed in an ambulance and transported to a hospital. He died hours later of cardiac arrest.

In a subsequent press conference, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said an initial toxicology report indicated that Anderson had cocaine and marijuana in his system at the time. The LAPD is still waiting for the full results of the toxicology report to determine what role the tasing may have played in Anderson's death.

Others are not waiting patiently. A cousin of Anderson's, Patrisse Cullors, is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and gathered with activists at Los Angeles City Hall earlier this week to call on police to reform rules for the use of Tasers and, more generally, to stop sending police to respond to minor traffic collisions and simple traffic violations.

We'll get back to the Tasers in a moment. It's possible to agree with the sentiment that we don't need armed police officers handling most traffic violations or incidents yet still recognize that this was a situation where police were going to be called. Assuming the LAPD account is accurate, the officers were called out in response to a hit-and-run incident, not just a minor collision. This is potentially a pretty serious crime that most people want police to investigate immediately. In addition, a witness on the scene can be heard in additional footage captured by a bystander claiming that Anderson attempted to get into his car and possibly steal it in order to get away from the crash scene.

Looking back, we can see that Anderson was not dangerous and was likely suffering from some sort of delusional response possibly attributable to drugs, but attempting to argue that police shouldn't have responded to this call is simply a non-starter. It is absolutely true that we should, as a practice, reduce armed interactions between police and citizens in nonviolent situations. But this encounter with Anderson is not a good case study as to why.

How the police responded and deployed their Taser against Anderson is, however, very much worthy of critique. We don't see all of the initial officer's interactions with Anderson, but what we do see isn't great. The officer at first is mostly focused on getting Anderson out of the street, which is very understandable. Anderson is at risk of getting hit by a car due to his erratic behavior. But the officer is either unconcerned with or uncertain of how to respond to Anderson's genuine—if completely misplaced and paranoid—fears. The officer is heavily focused on demanding compliance from somebody whose mental state is clearly compromised.

When Anderson eventually runs away and the officer chases him down, the officer starts yelling harshly at Anderson as though he's a bank robber caught with a gun in his hand at the scene of the crime, not somebody who is terrified and panicking. And when the police all collapse on Anderson, they yell "Stop resisting!" at him as they Tase him, a demand that is now ingrained in many people's brains as a justification that police use to cause harm to others. This is an example of police-fueled escalation.

The Los Angeles Times looked into the LAPD's rules for using Tasers and notes that the policy allows for their use "to control a suspect when the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or others." That doesn't appear to have been the case with Anderson. A use-of-force expert the Times turned to notes that there's no threat from Anderson, only a delay in detaining him caused by his fear and resistance. The LAPD's Taser policy is also clear that Tasers shall "not be used on a suspect or subject who is passively resisting or merely failing to comply with commands."

But when Tasers are called for, LAPD guidelines don't indicate a limit on how many attempts are possible. They are dangerous weapons, and experts recommend exposure of no more than five seconds at a time and a total of 15 seconds altogether.

So not only was the Taser probably unnecessary and unjustified by LAPD's own policies, the application appeared to be at an unsafe duration for Anderson.

And finally, from just watching the encounter, one can say that there was nothing to indicate that Anderson was dangerous; he was terrified, delusional, and in an altered state. The police did not seem to consider a response that fit the situation, at least not from what was shown on body camera footage.

It's possible to see why police were called to this scene. It's also possible to look at that footage and understand why some don't want police responding to people having a mental health or drug crisis.