The LAPD’s tasing of a teacher who later died appears excessive, experts say
Videos released this week of a teacher who died after Los Angeles police fired a taser at him at least six times on a Venice street raise serious concerns about officers’ tactics, law enforcement experts said checked the tapes.
LAPD’s actions have raised alarms from both community activists and Mayor Karen Bass, and are now the subject of an internal investigation.
Several police experts who reviewed the videos for The Times said the force used by the officers was excessive given the man’s actions and some of the tactics appeared indiscriminate.
“It’s going to be difficult to convince a judge that these officers used reasonable force,” said Ed Obayashi, a Northern California state congressman and a senior state adviser on police tactics. “From the visual point of view, it doesn’t look like he’s fighting back; He does not threaten the officers. He says I’m not resisting… and what might be considered resistance is the body’s automatic response to the taser’s application of pain.”
In the videos, 31-year-old Keenan Anderson becomes distraught and cries for help as several officers hold him down.
“They’re trying to convict me with George Floyd,” he yells, referring to the Minneapolis man killed by police as an officer briefly has his elbow on or around Anderson’s neck while pinning him on the asphalt pavement.
Eventually he is handcuffed and tied at his ankles before paramedics take him away. He died in hospital four hours later. A cause of death was not determined.
The incident began at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 3 with a motorcycle officer arriving at a car crash described by the LAPD as a “capital hit and run” on Venice and Lincoln boulevards. Police said Anderson was in the middle of the road and said, “Please help me.” LAPD Chief Michel Moore claimed this week another driver reported Anderson “attempted to get into another car without his permission.” “.
Anderson then wanders in and out of cars, with the officer telling him to get on the sidewalk, according to video. The officer yells, “Stand against the wall.”
Anderson then holds up his hands. “I did not want. I’m sorry.” Anderson sits down on the sidewalk.
After a few minutes’ pause, Anderson explains, “I want people to see me” and “you put something on me.”
Anderson then gets up and runs back onto the lane, as seen in the video. As Anderson pulls over, an officer says, “Turn on your stomach.” As a swarm of officers pull in, Anderson shouts at viewers, “Please help me” and says the officers are “trying to kill me.”
The officers then try to pin him down. One can be seen on the video putting his elbow on Anderson’s neck while lying on his back. The cop standing over him yells, “Turn around or I’ll tase you.”
The officer then fires the stun gun darts into Anderson’s back and pulls the trigger to discharge the muscle-constricting electrical impulse. He discharges the taser twice and then applies the taser directly to Anderson’s back at least four times in stun mode.
Moore said data from the Taser gun showed that “six separate activations occurred over 42 seconds. The first two [were] in probe mode. We believe the darts were not effective. Then four activations over 33 seconds’ in stun mode where the pulse was applied directly to the skin.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, center, protests the police killings of Takar Smith and Keenan Anderson during a Los Angeles City Council meeting Friday at City Hall.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Walter Katz, a former independent police investigator in California and Chicago, said it was up to the coroner to determine the taser’s role in Anderson’s death, but that didn’t mean the officer’s action was appropriate.
Katz said the incident started to go wrong when the officer with the taser instructed Anderson to turn on his stomach and stop resisting.
“The first application of Taser is such that when the muscles contract effectively, the person cannot move and is unable to comply with this instruction,” he said.
Then, Katz said, the officer repeatedly used the taser on Anderson’s body without really giving the man a chance to reset himself. Katz said it should have been clear by that point that Anderson’s behavior indicated he was somehow impaired.
“It was a bad decision to put more tasers on me,” he said. “This officer has taken the path that this is the tool I will use.”
According to LAPD policy, “There is no preset limit to the number of times a taser can be used in any given situation; However, officers should generally avoid repeated or simultaneous activations to avoid potential injury,” Moore said.
The chief claimed Anderson was in an altered condition and resisted officers’ efforts to arrest him. His blood work showed the presence of cocaine and cannabis in his system, Moore said.
Moore said an officer’s elbow “appears to be along the collarbone and may or may not have touched the neck, but I hear, ‘Partner your elbow.’ The boss said there was no evidence Anderson’s airwaves were compromised.
Timothy T. Williams, an expert on the use of force and a former supervisor of the elite LAPD robbery-homicide unit, said he was also concerned about the tactics.
“The tasing was excessive violence in my opinion. They apply the force that is necessary. You don’t hold a taser on a person long enough to control him or her,” he said.
Police had enough officers, Williams said, “to roll him over and handcuff him and sit up.” He said the first motorcycle officer did the right thing by calling for backup. But in the slowly unfolding incident, he never heard anyone call the department’s mental assessment team, which specializes in dealing with people suffering from a mental health crisis.
Carl Douglas, a well-known civil rights attorney who represents some of Anderson’s family members, said officers failed to consider Keenan’s mental state and followed proper tactics and guidelines.
“Here, multiple officers work independently and not as a team,” Douglas said. “He repeatedly tased him in the heart.”
Anderson was a 10th grade English teacher at a public charter school in Washington, DC and had a 5-year-old son. He was in Los Angeles visiting family and bringing his belongings back to the nation’s capital, Douglas said.
Anderson is the cousin of Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Maters.
“As I watched the video, I realized that my cousin Keenan was actually really scared and kept asking for help, and unfortunately he didn’t get it from the LAPD,” Cullors said. “At that point, the question is why wasn’t there [help]?
“Why wasn’t my cousin offered medical care?” she asked. “Why wasn’t an ambulance or the fire department called when he kept repeating that he needed help, that he needed support?”
Before viewing the body camera footage, Cullors told the Times that she and her family are still trying to piece together what happened.
“What we do know is that before his experience with the police, Keenan was alive and then he was dead. But we don’t want to continue the narrative of what the police said because we don’t know if that’s true,” he said you.
The LAPD uses the Taser, a brand of stun guns manufactured by Axon Enterprise, formerly known as Taser International. The name “Taser” has become synonymous with stun guns. The department has long used these and other so-called less-lethal weapons. But a 2016 Times study found that of the 1,100 times an LAPD officer used his taser, the gun only worked 53% of the time. Taser uses fell from 1,363 in 2016 to 545 in 2020, the most recent year for which the LAPD released reliable data.
The city has also paid for civilian settlements due to its use. In 2020, the city approved a $5.75 million settlement with the parents of a 39-year-old Navy veteran who died after an LAPD officer tasered him six times during an altercation on Christmas Eve 2014. A Los Angeles County coroner’s report found that his death was a homicide and that he died of ventricular arrhythmia due to an enlarged heart, noting that cocaine intoxication and police restraint by a taser contributed to it.
A Reuters investigation has examined records of more than 1,000 people who have died in the United States after encounters with police in which Tasers were used either alone or more frequently as part of a larger act of violence. According to the 2017 investigation, coroners named the taser as a cause of death or a contributing factor in at least 153 cases. A study funded by the US Department of Justice found that 99.75% of field uses of stun guns resulted in no injuries.
After the footage was released along with the other two videos showing LAPD officers fatally shooting two men, newly elected Mayor Karen Bass said she had “serious concerns about the deeply disturbing tapes.” “A full investigation is ongoing, and I promise that the city’s investigation into these deaths will be transparent and reflect the values of Los Angeles,” the statement said. “I will ensure that the city’s investigations aim only at truth and accountability. In addition, the officials involved must be furloughed immediately.”
LA County Dist. atty George Gascón said once the LAPD investigation is complete, his attorneys will “perform our independent analysis of all available evidence.
“My heart goes out to his family and everyone who knew him,” he said. “Police encounters that end in death leave a legacy of sorrow and sadness in our communities.”
Times staff member Libor Jany contributed to this report.