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Feds End Review of Taser Use by Fla. Sheriff's Office

After six years of scrutiny, the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday concluded that the Orange County Sheriff's Office has made enough improvements in the way it uses Tasers to fulfill the terms of an agreement between the two agencies.

The department's Civil Rights Division began investigating Taser use by the Sheriff's Office after a receiving a complaint in January 2007 of an alleged pattern of excessive force. It was the Justice Department's first review that focused specifically on Tasers, which were marketed to police departments starting in 1999.

In a news release Tuesday, the Justice Department gave high marks to the Sheriff's Office for decreasing its use of the stun guns and reducing its use of force in general.

The federal investigation started when Kevin Beary was sheriff. Then, in 2010, Sheriff Jerry Demings agreed to abide by recommendations designed to ensure his deputies' use of Tasers was constitutional.

In a statement Tuesday, the Justice Department said "effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand."

"OCSO [Orange County Sheriff's Office] has heightened its standards on Taser use, reduced the use of Tasers, and also reduced its overall use of force, all while providing effective policing to the people of Orange County," wrote Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

The Justice Department in October 2011 found that the Sheriff's Office was complying with the agreement but monitored the agency for another 18 months. On Tuesday, the federal agency said it was confident that Demings had instituted policies and procedures to ensure the constitutional use of Tasers.

The department's oversight of the Sheriff's Office ended March 31.

"I remain committed to the improvements implemented and will maintain these efforts into the future," Demings said.

In August 2008, the Justice Department issued 35 recommendations to the agency, then run by Beary. If the office had not complied, the federal government could have sued.

Beary was a strong supporter of Tasers and, in 2003, appeared in promotional materials for Arizona-based Taser International. In 2004, he allowed himself to be tased to prove the devices, which jolt people with electricity, are not physically harmful.

Five people died between 2001 and 2008 after Orange deputies stunned them with a Taser. Demings became sheriff in January 2009.

In 2008, the office came under renewed criticism when deputies shocked three people: an 11-year-old girl at Moss Park Middle School, a filmmaker who took photos of a crime scene and a man threatening to jump 25 feet onto the East-West Expressway.

The Justice Department's recommendations included avoiding using Tasers on children, the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled, people driving a car or riding a bicycle, and those under the influence of drugs, extremely agitated, or displaying bizarre or violent behavior, showing resistance to pain, handcuffed or otherwise restrained. They shouldn't be used to wake, prod or threaten someone.

Copyright 2013 - Orlando Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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