House passes stun gun training bill

ATLANTA - Police agencies in Georgia that use Taser stun guns would have to make sure their officers know how to use them properly under a bill passed overwhelmingly by the House on Wednesday.

The legislation, which cleared the lower chamber 162-1 and now goes to the Senate, would require police departments to draft written policies for using Tasers that meet standards set by the Georgia Peace Officer and Training Council.

Officers designated to use Tasers would have to complete a training course developed by the council and meet its certification requirements.

There is no such certification course offered by the Georgia Peace Officer and Training Council. Instead, Gwinnett County police officers and sheriff's deputies complete an initial training course provided by the weapon's manufacturer, Taser International. Deputies also take an eight-hour annual recertification course provided by the company, said Sheriff Butch Conway.

"I certainly support all agencies being required to provide Taser training prior to issuing them," Conway said. "I also would like to see certain elected officials get a resolution passed urging citizens not to resist or offer violence against law enforcement personnel."

The issue first surfaced in the Legislature last year after the death of a Lawrenceville man in May 2004. Frederick Jerome Williams died at the Gwinnett County Detention Center after being stunned multiple times by a Taser during a struggle with deputies.

Williams' widow has filed a lawsuit against the county and Taser International.

During a brief debate on the House floor, Rep. Joe Heckstall, D-East Point, asked the bill's sponsors to amend it by requiring local police agencies to keep a written log of all serious injuries or deaths caused by Tasers.

But Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, chairman of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, said the bill already provides for the state council to keep those statistics and report any incidents that occur.

Gwinnett County police officers and sheriff's deputies already go beyond those requirements by documenting every incident in which a Taser is used. Conway said deputies even record when the Taser is brandished to threaten someone but not deployed.

Documenting each incident helps police to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the Taser and their policy regulating its use, said Officer Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department.