Police across the U.S. are increasingly turning to Tasers as a non-lethal way to subdue suspects and apprehend criminals. But there's a big problem, Amnesty International said earlier this month: At least 500 Americans have died after being Tased by law enforcement officers since 2001, either during their arrest or while in custody. Usually, the police are cleared of wrongdoing, as in the case of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel Cole, who Tased a handcuffed 20-year-old, causing her to slip, crack her head, and fall into a persistent vegetative state. Here, eight strange, sad, or darkly amusing Taser incidents from recent history:
1. Running away in handcuffs
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded last week that Cole's actions in the September 2011 Tasing of Danielle Maudsley "were legal and within the scope of his duties." Maudsley, 20, had been arrested for two hit-and-run accidents, and she tried to escape custody by running away while handcuffed. In a pursuit captured on a patrol car's dash cam, Cole shot Maudsley with his Taser. Maudsley fell and cracked her head on the pavement. "I can't get up," she moaned, then slipped into a vegetative state from which she'll probably never recover. "Cole was close enough, and — at 267 pounds — big enough, that had he simply heaved himself in her general direction, he likely could have tackled Maudsley," says Mike Riggs at Reason. "Or, if he wanted to keep his uniform clean, he could've broke into a run and grabbed her."
2. Naked shoplifting
On Feb. 15, Vernon Taylor walked into an Exton, Pa., Walmart after stripping completely naked in the parking lot, then strolled up to the customer service desk, allegedly stole a pair of socks, and put them on. When the police arrived, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Taylor refused to leave the store or follow orders, so the cops Tased him. Taylor then reportedly spat at officers, hitting one of them in the face. "Police suspect that he was under the influence of narcotics at the time," says Andrew Tarantola at Gizmodo. "Oh really, you think?"
3. Blocking a McDonald's drive-thru
Police in Fayetteville, Ind., Tased 37-year-old Evangeline Lucca on Feb. 3, after she cut in line in a McDonald's drive-thru, then blocked the lane for 20 minutes while employees refused to serve her. When the cops showed up, "she really got mad," says sheriff's office spokeswoman Debbie Tanna. Three officers removed Lucca's 3-year-old daughter from the car, then tried to drag Lucca out. "They pulled on her a couple of times, and then they Tased her again, and when they Tased her the second time, she just flopped out of the car like a fish," fellow customer Anthony Rick tells the Fayetteville Observer.
4. Letting the dog run free
A National Park Service ranger at the Rancho Corral de Tierra park outside of San Francisco Tased dog owner Gary Hesterberg, 50, on Jan. 29 after Hesterberg violated park rules by walking his dogs off-leash. Hesterberg provided the ranger a false name, and when it failed to check out, he ignored her order to stay put. "It was really scary," witness Michelle Babcock tells the San Francisco Chronicle. "He just tried to walk away," and the ranger Tased him in the back. "We were like in disbelief." Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has called for an investigation.
5. Not pulling up sagging pants
After school one day in April 2011, police officers at a Derby, Kan., high school ordered Jonathan Villarreal, 17, to pull up his low-hanging pants. When he told them no, the cops pinned him to the ground with knees in his back and neck, broke his arm, and Tased him in the chest. The police say Villarreal used profanity and took "an aggressive stance" prior to the Tasing. So what? says David Drumm at law professor Jonathan Turley's blog. "If the police officers have nothing better to do than to enforce dress codes after school is out, maybe their presence and corresponding expense are unnecessary."
6. Ranting in a fig tree
In June 2006, a deputy sheriff in Bremerton, Wash., meant to Tase an increasingly hostile man who'd been talking to himself in a fig tree for hours, but pulled his gun instead. After he shot the man, wounding him, the guy climbed down by himself. "He said, 'Ow, that hurt. I'm coming down, I'm coming down,'" witness David Blakeslee tells the AP. The sheriff's office explained that officers carry both a Taser and a gun, both about the same size and shape, and that after two hours of talking, the officers feared the man was intoxicated or psychotic and posed a threat to others.
7. Running onto a baseball field
At a May 2010 baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals, 17-year-old Phillies fan Steve Consalvi ran onto the field in the middle of the 8th inning waving a white towel. A Philadelphia police officer shot him with a Taser, and Consalvi's face-plant was met with laughter and cheers from the crowd. Consalvi's mom apologized to the Phillies, but then-Gov. Ed Rendell (D) called the first-ever use of Tasers at a Phillies game a big mistake. "There's no need to use Tasers on fans," he said. "We should just have enough personnel out there to surround them, take them off the field, and off to jail."
8. Resisting arrest... at age 14
On Feb. 15, four San Diego cops confronted a 14-year-old accused of stealing $5,000 worth of iPods from his middle school. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound boy reportedly had two of the iPods on him, and when the cops and his vice principal asked about them in a closed room, then moved to handcuff him, the boy started hitting and kicking the police. One officer shot the boy with his Taser, but the boy pulled out the barbs and kept attacking, until the cops subdued him with a second Tasing. There were five grown men versus one boy, parent Lorenza Vargas tells the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Instead of Tasing the kid, can't they restrain him?"