UF Taser Incident Should Have Been Avoided, Says ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today expressed dismay at the circumstances surrounding a University of Florida Police Officer's use of a taser gun in the process of arresting a student at a speech by U.S. Senator John Kerry in Gainesville. The student, Andrew Meyer, was forcibly removed by campus police from a microphone where he was asking questions of Sen. Kerry.

Kerry can be heard expressing a desire to respond to Meyer's questions in videotape coverage of the campus incident, so the question becomes -- did police squander the free speech rights of both Kerry and Meyer?

"Apart from the taser use issues, one must consider the free speech implications of the police officers' actions," said Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida Executive Director. "People have a reasonable expectation to ask questions in a public setting -- even if they are aggressive and some disagree with their position -- that is free speech plain and simple. Similarly -- Kerry had a reasonable expectation to be able to answer those questions. Neither of them was able to exercise their free speech rights due to the police action."

Additionally, it appears that sufficient police force was present to control Meyer without the need to taser him. If that is the case, which only a comprehensive investigation can determine, this may be a classic example of excessive force. A review of the police department's policies and protocols on use of tasers, as well as the officer's actions, will be required to determine whether use of the taser was warranted or if indeed, poor judgment was exercised.

"The answers to these, and other questions, will only be known once the police conduct an investigation into the officer's actions," said Glenn Katon, ACLU of Florida Central Region Office Director. "The use of tasers has grown exponentially in recent years, and the jury is still out, so to speak, on what best practices are for how and when to use them. This case appears disturbing and certainly merits a full investigation."