Being a cop is not an easy job. No one should question that. However, some of the decisions and actions taken by police officers seem to fly in the face of reason. Take the example of Officer Marcy Noriega, who needed to fire a taser at a subject who was being unruly and kicking the back of the windows in her patrol car. She drew what she believed was the taser from her belt and fired. Unfortunately, she had drawn her handgun and shot the young man in the chest, killing him.
The Situation The Led To A Man’s Death
What happened? The initial call was for loud music. The officers arrested two people, Erica Mejia and Everardo Torres. They handcuffed them and placed them in the back of the patrol car. The two were in the vehicle for around 40 minutes. During this time, Torres fell asleep. The police removed Meija and adjusted her handcuffs. Torres woke up and began kicking the windows of the vehicle. It was at this time that Noriega approached and fired. Witnesses say that Noriega yelled at him to stop or he would be tased.
As mentioned, she pulled the wrong weapon and ended up killing Torres. In addition to the flow of adrenaline you have to imagine all police officers feel when they are in these types of situations, the city of Madera is contending that the taser company was making devices that were too similar to handguns. They were similar in weight and size for starters. Noriega wore the pistol on her hip and the taser in a thigh holster that was just below. The city argued that any officer could reasonably draw the gun rather than the taser by mistake. As a side note, this is not the first time that this has happened to this particular officer (the confusion) nor with this model of Taser.
The Lawsuits that Followed (Yes, Two!)
The victim’s family sued the city for wrongful death of their son, which is certainly a natural reaction. The city decided that they would sue the taser company to cover the full costs of the wrongful death suit brought against them by the Torres family.
There have been other incidents where police officers have mistaken their handgun and their taser. One of the most recent examples of this is reserve deputy Robert Bates in Tulsa, Oklahoma who claims he mistook his handgun for his taser when he shot and killed an unarmed man. This reserve deputy was charged with second-degree manslaughter for the incident. They charged him in this manner because the law in the state defines culpable negligence to be omitting something that a reasonably careful person would do.
It should be noted that the the Office was not charged criminally.
What Needs to Happen?
Police need to have both lethal and nonlethal means at their disposal, which they can use depending on the situation. However, something needs to happen to stop the mistakes that are occurring with tasers and handguns. Increased training and utilizing tasers that look and feel different could be a start. While these incidents are still rare, any accident such as this is one too many. Hopefully, we will not continue to see them down the road.
How It Turned Out…
After the shooting, the Taser Company exchanged all the tasers in that city that had a similar design to Glocks with a different designed Taser. The Taser design in question was then discontinued. They now do not resemble handguns. The parents of the deceased and the city settled the matter for $775,000. Lastly, as of 2013, the officer was back to work.