Santa Clara County sheriff endorses Tasers for deputies
Sheriff Robert Jonsen plans to present options to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for arming deputies on the street and in county jail facilities with Tasers. File photo.

    Santa Clara County sheriff deputies may soon be re-armed with Tasers from a controversial vendor after a decadeslong hiatus.

    Sheriff Robert Jonsen plans to present options for arming deputies on the street and in county jail facilities with Tasers to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Jail guards have been stripped of Tasers for decades after the 1989 death of Jeffery Leonti, who died after being restrained and tased while in custody, the Mercury News reported.

    Maelin Aquino, a community organizer at Asian Law Alliance, and other justice and public safety accountability advocates oppose arming deputies with Tasers. She said using Tasers doesn’t take prior health conditions or comorbidities into consideration.

    “Maybe an inmate has a pacemaker in place … that could short circuit the pacemaker, which could lead to death or severe injury,” Aquino told San José Spotlight.

    Jonsen said the sheriff’s office plans to adopt the recommendation from an August report commissioned by the County Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring analyzing jail guards using tear gas to remove inmates from their cells. The report suggested prohibiting the use of chemical agents on people with documented medical conditions that involve respiratory issues. Jonsen said he would like to implement a similar policy for using Tasers on inmates. 

    “We’ll make sure that’s part of the equation,” Jonsen said.

    The presentation, originally set to take place at the Sept. 12 board of supervisors meeting, has been postponed tentatively to Oct. 17, Jonsen said, to complete the policies for using Tasers on people in custody, including in county jails. Jonsen told San José Spotlight he didn’t have a cost estimate to share, but he’ll provide county supervisors with several options, which include equipping sheriff’s deputies both in the field and in jails with Tasers.

    Jonsen said he previously felt the value of tasers was “questionable” due to their limited effectiveness. But he said the new model he plans to implement is more accurate and can be used up to 45 feet away, compared to older models limited to a 15- to 25-foot range.

    Most importantly, Jonsen said, drawing the Taser would automatically activate the deputy’s body-worn camera.

    “It has built-in accountability,” Jonsen told San José Spotlight.  “I think that is a very important piece because now we’ll be able to actually track its effectiveness through video. Even the de-escalation of when it’s not used, that will still be captured on video.”

    That’s because the county’s vendor for Tasers would be Axon, which already supplies the sheriff’s office with body-worn cameras, Jonsen said. Reuters reported the $15 billion corporation branded with the purpose of “saving lives” fostered a toxic culture where employees are tased and tattooed with Tasers or company branding to show their loyalty.

    “We’re looking at the device, not hiring the culture,” Jonsen said. “We have built in some very strong accountability within our organization.”

    Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.

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