This is a guest post by my colleague and fellow solicitor, John Hagan.
Another day, and so another shocking video of excessive force from a Police Officer, this time of Greater Manchester Police.
Mobile phone footage filmed by a bystander (watch it below) captured the moment when a black man was shot from close-range by a taser- wielding GMP Officer with no warning, no notice, no justification.
Mr Desmond Mombeyarara had been stopped by Police apparently on suspicion of driving offences, and was talking to the Officers, having just put down his young son – who distressingly witnessed what then unfolded – when one of them shot him with a taser ‘stun gun’.
The taser caused Mr Mombeyarara to collapse to the ground, where he lay helpless as his son cried out “Daddy, Daddy” and the Officer leant over him and discharged the taser again, causing Mr Mombeyarara to convulse upon the ground, whilst shouting instructions to Mr Mombeyarara to put his hands behind his back.
From the video evidence this appears to have been a fairly straight forward interaction between the Police and Mr Mombeyarara in the minutes beforehand, who can be heard saying (not shouting) that he is “Not causing a problem” just seconds before he is shot.
This is exactly the type of scenario which I and other lawyers spoke up against and warned about, when Police Forces nationwide started to push for greater “roll out” of taser guns to all “front line” officers. Training and vetting of Officers must be tightened and increased as their ‘firepower’ is increased, in my opinion, or you run the risk of this kind of incident occurring – where an Officer will just casually produce a taser and shoot a person they are interacting with, as if it is no big deal (which perhaps from the Officer’s point of view it isn’t).
In most situations, a taser gun should be seen as a weapon of last resort, not a device simply to be used to short- circuit a proper discussion with a suspect. College of Policing guidance to Officers requires them to consider 3 “core questions”-
1. If force is justified, how immediate and grave is the threat posed ?
2. Are there any means, short of the use of force, capable of achieving the officer’s lawful objective ?
3. Having regard to the nature and gravity of the threat, and the potential for adverse consequences to arise from the use of force – including the risk of escalation and the exposure of others to harm – what is the minimum level of force required to attain the objective identified and would use of that level of force be proportionate or excessive ?
I would challenge anyone making an objective assessment of this video to conclude that the Officers involved came anywhere near passing the test for reasonable use of force posed by those core questions. This is hammered home by the Ten Key Principles Governing the Use of Force by the Police Service, which include the following injunction as Principle 3 –
“Police officers shall, as far as possible, apply non- violent methods before resorting to any use of force. They should use force only when other methods have proved ineffective, or when it is honestly and reasonably judged that there is no realistic prospect of achieving the lawful objective identified without force.”
Could either of the Officers involved in this incident honestly argue that they had no alternative other than to taser Mr Mombeyarara at that moment? They appear to have acted with total disregard for the strictures set down by the College of Policing; we can certainly challenge how effective was their training in these guidelines and models of behaviour, if all of that training, as it apparently did, went out of the window simply because one of the Officers had a taser within easy reach.
In my opinion, the increasing number of incidents like this being caught on camera is a warning as to quite how many Officers are going straight to a device to which electrocutes and paralyses a person, causing them to fall helplessly – but far from harmlessly – to the floor – as soon as they have any sort of disagreement or dispute with that person. This is a state of affairs which demonstrates laziness from the officers involved and/or a lack of awareness of the extent of the risk this weapon poses to a person’s health (life and limb?); not least to add, in this particular case, the mental scar the Officer may so casually have inflicted on the young child who witnessed his father being, quite frankly, ‘gunned down’ in front of him.
We honestly have to ask what was going through this officer’s mind, and do we want to have a society in which a few moments of ‘talking back’ to an officer justifies him incapacitating you through electrocution?
Let us keep front and centre in our consideration of these issues, the fact that the producers of the Taser weapon themselves (the American corporation Axon) market it as a ‘less lethal’ not non- lethal weapon. The possibility of serious injury or death exists on each and every occasion when the weapon is deployed.
It is also both disturbing and unsurprising that the victim in this case was once again a black male. It is well documented how our predominantly ethnically white police force will use their taser weapons disproportionatly against people of black and ethnic minority backgrounds/ appearance. A recent report in the Guardian newspaper highlighted how use of tasers increased by 39% last year as more and more Officers were armed by them, and Home Office figures revealed that black people in England and Wales were almost 8 times more likely to have tasers used against them than white people. It would seem that the increasing prevalence of this weapon is exacerbating long- existing problems of confirmation bias and ingrained racism in the attitudes of our Police towards black and ethnic minority members of society. That is yet another reason to take a long look at whether their increased ‘roll out’ should be allowed to continue.
Cold, hard statistics like that, as well as the vivid evidence of individual incidents such as this video, demonstrate that some Police officers simply can’t be trusted with these weapons.
We can only hope that the Independent Office of Police Conduct will now do their duty and thoroughly and impartially investigate this incident and sanction the Officers involved – as it seems that many officers are going to have to be snapped out of the dangerous complacency into which they have fallen in terms of their relationship with the taser gun, by a suitable shock to the system.
There is of course an appropriate place for these weapons in the Police officer’s arsenal. The use of a taser to render helpless a knife wielding terrorist on the London underground is an incident we all recall, and the Officers involved in that incident were rightly praised for their bravery. But what these officers of GMP did was not brave; in fact it was totally unnecessary. Officers need these weapons to handle terrorists and other dangerous criminals; they must not become a kind of go to ‘tagging device’ used in any interaction the officer feels like, any low- level dispute, any minor aggravation. Officers should not use this device to bypass their brains, or their duty to always use reason and empathy to attempt to de-escalate and resolve a situation. To do otherwise is an abuse of power, and any Officer who does that is far from being a hero.
I noted that a lot of the media outlets carrying this video included a ‘trigger warning’ captioned before the video started to play… well, that is far more warning than Mr Mombeyarara got.