Miami Beach officers are no longer required to get Tasered during police trainings, a notable policy change for a department that has made national headlines in the past for its use of Tasers in the field.
In an internal e-mail obtained by Fusion, Police Chief Daniel J. Oates told his officers he does not believe they need to be Tasered in order to be “well trained in how to use the weapon.”
“I learned this morning that our Department has a long-standing practice that before any member can qualify to carry a Taser on patrol, he/she must first be shocked by the weapon in training. I don’t agree with this rule,” Oates wrote.
“I have been shocked by the Taser, and it is extremely unpleasant.”
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The announcement sparked outrage among the family of Israel Hernandez, the 18-year-old graffiti artist who died in August 2013 after being Tasered by a Miami Beach police officer. Seven months after Hernandez’s death, the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Forensic Office issued statement listing the “conducted energy device discharge” (Taser) as the cause of death.
“This announcement shows the police and its chief are only interested in helping their officers and not the citizens they serve. He doesn’t want his officers to feel pain, what about us?” Jorge Estomba, a family spokesperson, said.
Since Chief Oates took office in June 2014, he has repeatedly talked about his intentions to change the department’s Taser policies, but the way Miami Beach officers are instructed to use Tasers in the field remains intact.
“It worries me how the chief talks about changes, and the changes only benefit the police,” Israel Hernandez Sr., told Fusion. “He has to put himself in our shoes and understand what my family has gone through. It’s time to make radical changes,” he said.
“We were positive about his early announcements. We felt that he was honest and he truly wanted to change Miami Beach police for good, but it was just a show and a lie. The Hernandez family is totally destroyed and deeply disappointed,” he said.
According to the Miami Beach Police standard operating procedures, Tasers are a “non-deadly force” and shall be used when a subject poses an “imminent threat” to the officer, other people, property or himself.
Hernandez’s family wants the police department to remove Tasers from their officers’ hands.
“More independent research is needed before officers continue using Tasers. These are not only a form of torture, Tasers are deadly,” Estomba said.
Chief Oates told NBC’s Miami affiliate that he recommends his officers to still get Tasered for the “experience” but now it’s up to them.
Israel Hernandez’s death is still under investigation. The Hernandez family is planning to take the case to the Department of Justice.
Miami Beach Police spokesperson Detective Vivian Thayer told Fusion the change is only “for internal training procedures” at this time. When we asked if the department is planning to make any additional changes to their Taser policies, she declined to comment.
Thayer didn’t respond to the comments made by the Hernandez family.
Alice Brennan contributed reporting.