Local News

Wake sheriff phasing out stun guns as part of revised policies

Posted June 4, 2019 5:49 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2019 7:31 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County Sheriff's Office is no longer issuing stun guns to new deputies as it adjusts its use-of-force policy, officials said Tuesday.

Sheriff Gerald Baker has had staff members reviewing a number of policies since he took office in December, and several changes were rolled out Tuesday during training sessions for deputies.

Rick Brown, legal adviser for the sheriff's office, said the decision to phase out stun guns, or Tasers, was based on a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Taser use may be seen as unconstitutionally excessive force in some circumstances. Rather than risk liability, the sheriff's office will simply stop using the devices once their lifespan is up.

Deputies will now have to "go hands-on" with someone who doesn't comply with commands, Brown said.

"Are they happy about it? Of course not. Who would be?" Brown said after the training session. "By the same token, they are willing to do their job. They don't want to hurt anybody. That's not their job."

During the training session, as deputies watched a series of videos showing excessive force by law enforcement, Brown noted that the sheriff's office's new use-of-force policy emphasizes patience and de-escalation of situations.

"What's the person's problem? Can they be reasoned with? What kind of a threat are they to themselves and the officer?" he asked as deputies watched dashboard camera video of a New Mexico state trooper shooting at a minivan with children inside when a mother refused to cooperate during a traffic stop. "[You need to know] all those things to have sufficient facts before using force."

Use of force should be a last resort, Brown said.

"We cannot have law enforcement that the public does not believe that law enforcement does not have integrity, and part of that is proper use of force," he said.

The training comes after an incident last year involving a former Wake County deputy.

Cameron Broadwell was fired after pleading guilty last month to failure to discharge his duties in connection with unleashing his K-9 on Kyron Hinton in the middle of a Raleigh street when a delirious Hinton didn't comply with commands.

"K-9 policy is also in the process of being reviewed and will have significant changes," Brown said.

Baker noted in a news conference after Broadwell was fired that K-9s still play an important law enforcement role, such as searching for lost children or fleeing suspects, but how and when they would be deployed would change.

Another policy the sheriff's office is changing covers high-speed chases.

In the past, officials said, the attitude has been to chase until the wheels fall off, and the decision when to initiate and end a pursuit has been in the hands of the deputy chasing a fleeing suspect. The new policy will put a supervisor in charge of deciding when to pursue, Brown said, because that person can more easily take into account factors like the seriousness of the offense the fleeing driver is suspected of, traffic volume, weather conditions and pedestrians.

"There have been studies to show that you don't want somebody who has to concentrate on the driving skills that it takes to pursue somebody to be aware of all these other factors," he said.

John Midgette, executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said he and his staff are reviewing the policy changes to ensure they are in line with federal and state laws.