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In a case of mistaken identity, a partially-sighted man was Tasered by a Lancashire police officer who mistook his white stick for a sword. The officer was ordered to apologise, and the victim awarded an undisclosed sum. Is this the sort of justice we can expect for Judah?

Photo: Mark Simmons

Last week the IPCC served two Avon & Somerset police officers with gross misconduct notices as part of its investigation regarding the Tasering of local elder, Ras Judah Adunbi. The Bristol grandfather, who has worked as a race relations advisor for Avon & Somerset, was Tasered in a case of mistaken identity in January.

Campaigners have cautiously welcomed the IPCC’s announcement (Independent Police Complaints Commission). But what can be expected from the investigation? A look at similar incidents may offer some clues.

A 2014 IPCC report looked at Taser use from 2004 to 2013 in England and Wales. In one case of mistaken identity referred to in the report, a partially-sighted man was Tasered by a Lancashire police officer who mistook his white stick for a sword. The victim was eventually awarded an undisclosed sum, while the officer received a ‘performance improvement notice’, and was ordered to apologise to the victim.

Other cases of Taser misuse have led to a range of generally lenient outcomes for the officers involved, including further training, being placed on performance plans, having Taser rights removed, and misconduct hearings. In two separate instances, officers left their police force before the investigations had finished, avoiding any disciplinary actions.

“People were horrified to hear that she was still on duty.”

In a public statement regarding the Tasering of Ras Judah, IPCC Commissioner Cindy Butts said, “we are conducting a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident.” She added, “the investigation is making positive progress and we are continuing to review evidence regarding the appropriateness of Taser use in the circumstances.”

Meanwhile, the officer who Tasered Ras Judah is reportedly still on duty, relocated to another beat in the city with her Taser rights temporarily removed. “People were horrified to hear that she was still on duty,” says Desmond Brown, one of the Justice for Judah campaigners.“Our major concern is to get this police officer removed from the streets today.”

“We haven’t got confidence in the IPCC,” says Desmond, “but there’s a process that we need to go through, as was said in the meeting, we want to be surprised. So until that’s completed we’ll keep our powder dry.” Judging by the IPCC’s own report, campaigners shouldn’t brace themselves for much more than a recommendation of a disciplinary for the officer, and perhaps the removal of her Taser rights.

The case of Ras Judah will fan the flames of a debate over Tasers that has been raging – albeit in small pockets – for years. While it goes on, Home Office figures show that use of the equipment is rising across England and Wales and that black and ethnic minority people are more likely to be Tasered by police. Despite the mission creep of British police being equipped with Tasers, the Police Federation, the association of rank and file police, are keen for all officers to carry a Taser for their protection.

What the ‘less-lethal weapon’ means for community policing and principles of policing by consent in modern Britain remains to be seen. While the IPCC grinds through its investigation, Desmond says that the Justice for Judah campaign “wants to start educating our community so they know they’re rights” and that “police raise their standards and realise that people in uniform can’t take the mickey”.

Have you got an experience to share regarding policing and Taser use in Bristol? We’ll respect your privacy. Contact Alon:

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