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The Daily Appeal
Curated by Sarah Lustbader (@SarahLustbader)
and Vaidya Gullapalli (@VGullap)

What you'll read today 

  • Spotlight: Tasers are dangerous for the young and the old and plenty of others, but police still use them on high-risk groups

  • A former Baltimore cop outlines reasons to defund the city’s police

  • Most recent deaths at East Baton Rouge jail could have been avoided

  • Justice in America Episode 4: A conversation with John Legend

  • Woman held on $1,500 bail dies by suicide at Harris County Jail

  • Former head of NYC corrections officer union found guilty of bribery and conspiracy

  • Children’s families forced to pay for representation they cannot afford

  • Unrepresented asylum seekers are more vulnerable than ever under the Trump administration

In the Spotlight

Tasers are dangerous for the young and the old and plenty of others, but police still use them on high-risk groups

Last Monday, a Cincinnati police officer, working off-duty as security at a grocery store, fired a Taser at an 11-year-old he suspected of shoplifting. She was hit in the back and fell face first on the floor. [Sharon Coolidge and Cameron Knight / Cincinnati Enquirer] The fourth-grader told NBC News, "It hit my back real fast and then I stopped, then I fell and I was shaking and I couldn't really breathe. It's just like you're passing out but you're shaking.” [Jacob Taylor / NBC News]

A statement from the Cincinnati police immediately after the incident said the officer fired his Taser after the girl—who weighs 90 pounds and is 4 feet 11 inches tall—ignored “repeated commands to stop.” [Christina Caron / New York Times] A Taser operates by shooting two barbs that embed in a person’s skin and deliver an electric shock. Her mother told the Cincinnati Enquirer that, three days later, she was still experiencing back pain and having trouble sleeping. [Sharon Coolidge and Cameron Knight / Cincinnati Enquirer]

The Cincinnati Police Department procedure manual allows the use of a Taser on people as young as 7. The manual permits use on someone who is actively resisting arrest. [Sharon Coolidge and Cameron Knight / Cincinnati Enquirer] The definition of resisting arrest is “broad,” and gives wide latitude to officers. [Cameron Knight / Cincinnati Enquirer]

An indication of how normalized Taser use has become is evident from the vice mayor’s proposal that the city raise the minimum age for Taser use by officers to 12. He has also asked for a review of policies related to Tasers and a “comprehensive look at all of the Tasing episodes involving minor children” over the last two years. However, he told the New York Times that he was not aware of other incidents of children being Tased and called this case an “outlier.” A representative of the Ohio attorney general’s office told the Times that state law does not offer guidance to officers on Taser use. Police departments are responsible for coming up with their own policies. [Christina Caron / New York Times]

A Reuters investigation this year looked at the many groups that Taser’s manufacturer, Axon, identifies as being at a higher risk of serious injury or death if stunned by the weapon. This includes, according to Reuters: “Pregnant women. Young children. Old people. Frail people. People with heart conditions. People on drugs or alcohol.” An analysis of demographic and health data revealed that these groups collectively make up a third of the U.S. population. Reuters identified 1,028 people who died after being shocked with Tasers, often in combination with other forms of force. People in these groups accounted for more than half of the deaths. [Grant Smith, Jason Szep, Peter Eisler, Linda So, and Lisa Girion / Reuters]

Axon began listing higher-risk groups in 2009 and the list has grown. However, none of the company’s warnings or guidelines are binding on police departments. The Reuters investigation also notes that “while more than 90 percent of police agencies deploy Tasers, there are no universal standards for usage.” [Grant Smith, Jason Szep, Peter Eisler, Linda So, and Lisa Girion / Reuters]

Furthermore, though the very young and very old may be easily identified as such, it is not always obvious that a person is in other high-risk groups. According to Reuters, at any given time, 80 percent of the U.S. population could conceivably belong to one of the vulnerable groups. [Grant Smith, Jason Szep, Peter Eisler, Linda So, and Lisa Girion / Reuters]

From recent cases it appears, however, that officers use Tasers even when it should be clear that their use is dangerous and ill-advised. A federal lawsuit filed in Louisiana this month alleged that a sheriff’s deputy assigned to a school used a stun gun on a nonverbal 10th-grader with autism. The boy was left lying in his own urine for 13 minutes until an emergency crew arrived. [Associated Press]

In certain cases, police seem unwilling to refrain from the use of Tasers, even on the elderly. A police chief in Georgia defended the use of a Taser on an 87-year-old woman last Friday. Martha Al-Bishara was reported as being on the grounds of a Boys and Girls club with a knife, which her family said was to cut dandelions. When Al-Bishara, who does not speak English, did not follow police orders to drop the knife, they fired a Taser at her, striking her in her breast and stomach. The chief told the Daily Citizen-News that it was, “the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat at the time,” and an “87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.” [Chris Whitfield / Daily Citizen-News]

Nor does Taser use appear to reduce police use of firearms. A study of the Chicago Police Department, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in January, found that the introduction of Tasers made no difference. University of Chicago Professor Jeffrey Grogger also found in the study that "police injuries fell, but neither injury rates nor the number of injuries to civilians were affected." [Thomas Franck /]

Stories From The Appeal

Baltimore police officers during a rally for Freddy Gray in April 2015.  
[Photo Illustration by Anagraph/Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

Defund the Baltimore Police. A former Baltimore cop questions how a department with a nearly half-billion-dollar budget that is riven by rampant corruption and brutality, bloated overtime spending, and unaccounted for patrol officers can continue to justify its existence. [Larry Smith]

Most Recent Deaths at East Baton Rouge Jail Could Have Been Avoided. A new report details the abysmal conditions, lack of medical care, and staff shortages that led to the unusually high death rate in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. [Teresa Mathew]

Justice in America Episode 4: A Conversation With John Legend. Josie and Clint talk with the recording artist about criminal justice reform and his #FREEAMERICA campaign. [Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith]

Stories From Around the Country

Woman held on $1,500 bail dies by suicide in a Texas jail: Debora Ann Lyons became the second person to die of suicide this month at Harris County Jail. Lyons, 58, was in jail because she could not pay the $1,500 bail set in her case. She had been incarcerated since her arrest on July 21. Lyons was charged with stealing items worth a total of $2,500. She was approved for a personal release bond the day of her death, after an initial denial. Jay Jenkins, a project attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, told the Houston Chronicle, "The fact that this is happening is another indication that we need to rethink the wisdom of holding 10,000 people in our jail downtown, particularly those who are still legally innocent." [Keri Blakinger / Houston Chronicle]

Former head of NYC corrections officer union found guilty of bribery and conspiracy: Norman Seabrook, the once-powerful head of the New York City corrections officer union, was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy Wednesday afternoon. Seabrook was charged with diverting $20 million of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association money—of which the union eventually lost $19 million—into a hedge fund in exchange for a kickback. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Seabrook fought efforts at reform on Rikers Island and defended the union rank and file against allegations of violence and abuse. The New York Times described him as having “accrued power and wealth, often outflanking mayors and correction commissioners in his influence.” [Zoe Greenberg / New York Times]

Children’s families forced to pay for representation they cannot afford: A new report from the Juvenile Law Center says that, in almost every state, “youth or their families must pay for legal assistance even if they are determined to be indigent, either by reimbursing the cost, paying a flat fee, or paying an application or other administrative fee.” The report documents policies in 37 states that require or permit the juvenile court system to bill families for attorneys’ fees when a lawyer is appointed to represent a child. It draws on state laws, studies, and a comprehensive survey of 153 people involved in the legal system. More than a third of the respondents said the need to pay attorneys’ fees leads young people to waive their right to counsel. The cost of representation also places on pressure on young people to plead guilty rather than go to trial. [Julie Miller / Juvenile Justice Information Exchange]

Unrepresented asylum seekers are more vulnerable than ever under the Trump administration: The crisis triggered by the Trump administration’s family separation policy has made the consequences of lacking legal representation even more dire for immigrants. Unrepresented parents may have “signed forms not knowing they were giving up their children, may have been pressured to agree to deportation with promises of being reunited with their sons or daughters, or may have encountered officials who never gave them a choice about leaving their children behind.” A 2015 study found that odds were “15 times greater that immigrants with representation, as compared to those without, sought relief, and five-and-a-half times greater that they obtained relief from removal.” But the percentage of asylum seekers without representation has gone up. Over 20 percent of asylum seekers didn't have representation in 2017 compared with 13.6 percent in 2007, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). And while nearly half of asylum seekers with representation win their cases, only one out of every 10 of those without representation are successful. [Dianna M. Náñez / Arizona Republic]

Thanks for reading. We'll see you tomorrow.

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The Daily Appeal is a publication of The Justice Collaborative, a project of The Advocacy Fund

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