Unruly passenger Tased on crowded Caltrain

April 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Cell phone video captured the confusion on Caltrain after police Tased a bystander rather than the unruly passenger who was their target. Now San Mateo County Sheriff's investigators are looking into what happened.

The video, which was shot by a Caltrain passenger, is shaky and obscured. The man who shot the video doesn't want to get involved any further, but the pictures are up on YouTube and are raising questions about the use of Tasers.

On Thursday, April 1, the San Francisco Giants had just lost to the Oakland A's at AT&T Park when a young man wearing an orange sweatshirt came into the southbound Caltrain visibly upset. He was followed by two men trying to calm him down. One of them was saying he was the young man's uncle.

The man who shot the video says they struggled at the door of the train when it reached the Hillsdale Station. A transit officer tried to Tase the young man, but missed. The dart grazed the arm of a passenger on the train.

Then the man's orange sweatshirt was off and he was down on the ground being held by three officers, two of whom appear to be San Mateo police officers. The man continued to struggle, one of the San Mateo officers pulled out a Taser, and appeared to Tase the man in the back.

Tony Ribera is a former San Francisco chief of police now teaching law enforcement leadership at the University of San Francisco.

"In this case, by using the Taser they did not have to strike him, they did not use night sticks," says Ribera.

Ribera says the officer who Tased the man in the back acted responsibly and did a good job. And as he walked to an evening class, ABC7 asked Ribera about the deputy who fired a Taser on the train at the beginning of the video.

"Certainly that would be a concern. Any time you use any kind of force in a crowded area, you have to think about the safety of the other people involved," says Ribera.

In this case, a passenger seated with his back to the scuffle appeared to be grazed by the Taser dart.

"It would be an act of, in my estimation, gross negligence," says Arum James.

James is a retired San Mateo public defender and an outspoken opponent of Tasers.

"I don't see him going after anybody. He's basically having a bit of physical movement with his uncle who's trying to convince him to get off of the train," says James.

James says it was irresponsible to shoot a Taser in the train and unnecessary torture to Tase the man once he was off the train and on the ground.

"They had three [what] looked like young, strong, healthy officers with him face down already," says James. "It looked to me like they used it in the stun mode purely gratuitously."

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Department supplies deputies to serve as transit officers. ABC7 called repeatedly to find out the identity of the man handcuffed and Tazed last Thursday, but have not heard back from the sheriff's department. A spokeswoman for Samtrans says the incident is under investigation by the sheriff's department. A San Mateo police dispatcher told ABC7 the incident was under the sheriff's jurisdiction.


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