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Published on May 15, 2024
At Least 30 Deaths in Georgia Linked to Police Stun Gun Use Amid Lapses in Mandated TrainingSource: Wikipedia/Rama More information on how to use my images, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons

A sobering report sheds light on the grim outcomes following stun gun use by Georgia law enforcement, revealing at least 30 people died in encounters absent of gunfire from 2012 to 2021, as detailed by a collaborative investigation from the Associated Press and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland, as reported by WABE.

In one recent incident, Jermaine Jones Jr. suffered from "delayed complications of blunt force head trauma" after being shot with a stun gun by a Richmond County officer. The incident spiraled into a tragedy as, according to WABE's revealing investigation, Jones then seized and later died, marking it as another casualty in a series of fatal encounters involving "less-lethal force" in the state. Despite a Georgia Legislature mandate for statewide stun-gun training back in 2006, funds to implement such training have never materialized. Lt. Michael D. Humphreys of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged their force completes up to eight hours of stun-gun training, yet questions linger on whether the deaths are indicative of a systemic failure to adhere to best practices in the field.

Georgia's startling statistics spotlight bigger issues with non-lethal force; investigative journalists identified 20 cases wherein officers' use of stun guns resulted in deaths. Nine of these instances also involved 'drive-stuns' for compliance. Past directives by law enforcement policy groups and the Justice Department pressed for restrictions on stun gun deployment, advising against multiple and prolonged exposures, with Axon, the Taser manufacturer, warning against exceeding a 15-second electric shock in their manuals. However, as Keyana Gaines, mother of Jermaine Jones, alleges in her ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit, these guidelines are far from a saving grace, as her son’s case demonstrates the lethal potential of stun guns.

Amidst the criticism, former Richmond County chief deputy Patrick Clayton insisted stun guns help to avoid more physical confrontations, stating in an interview obtained by WABE, "It reduces injuries to the defendants and it reduces the injuries to the officers as well," but in practice, the controversy endures as stun gun incidents continue to claim lives and raise questions, the two most recent being Christopher Blount and Nelson Lee Graham Jr., both resulting in homicide rulings by the Richmond County Coroner's Office with stun guns implicated as a contributing factor according to WABE. Despite this grim tally, February 2023 saw the department's hefty investment of over $207,000 in new Tasers.

With the death toll from stun gun use rising and litigation pending, victims’ families, like Gaines, who told WABE, "They traded guns for Tasers," seek answers and accountability from a system stacked against them, even as it promises, yet seems to falter at, restraint and non-lethal alternatives. The complex interweaving of policing, mental health crisis responses, and outdated funding models for essential training casts a long shadow over the state's struggle to curtail fatal outcomes from law enforcement encounters.