Audit faults Palo Alto officer for firing Taser at bicyclist

Report by independent police auditor confirms finding of department's internal investigation

A Palo Alto police officer violated department policy in 2012 when he fired a Taser at a 16-year-old bicyclist before another officer used a police car to block the boy's path and capture him, according to a new report by Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco.

The report details an incident in which officers were trying to pull over a youth who was not stopping for stop signs and who was not obeying officers' commands to stop while riding a bike that was later determined to be stolen. According to the report, the two officers were pursuing the fleeing youth in a patrol car. At one point, one officer left the car and discharged a Taser while the youth was bicycling at, and ultimately, past him.

"According to the officer, the juvenile was riding right at him when he told him to stop and the officer deployed the Taser as the juvenile rode by him," the report states.

The electric stun gun, the report notes, had no apparent effect.

Where the Taser failed, the patrol car succeeded. The officer in the car "drove up beside the suspect" and "quickly applied brakes, blocking the path of the suspect and forcing him off his bicycle," the report states.

The boy fell to the ground, at which point the officer got out of the cruiser and "used force to push the suspect down and then pin him in order to keep him from trying to flee."

The other officer rejoined the struggle, according to the report, "by placing his Taser on the suspect's neck and back area and telling him that he would activate the Taser if the suspect did not comply." The officers then handcuffed the boy and placed him into custody (both officers, the report notes, also used profanity while restraining the suspect).

The boy was later medically treated for an abrasion on his face and for neck pain, cited for the stolen bicycle and released to his father.

The report doesn't identify the officers involved.

The incident was the second time a Taser was used in 2012. While the first case was deemed by both the department and the independent auditor to be appropriate, in this case both reviews concluded that the officer's discharge of the Taser was not consistent with the department's Taser policy. The auditor's report notes that the department ordered to officer who deployed the Taser to undergo additional training. The officer was also "formally held accountable for his Taser deployment," the report states.

In reviewing the case, internal department investigators noted that deploying a Taser on a bicyclist added complexities to the case. The review noted that "since the Taser is designed to incapacitate the individual, a cyclist who loses muscle control as a result of a successful Taser deployment could foreseeably end up injured because of the fall."

The other officer's conduct, meanwhile, was deemed to be "reasonable and within department policy," though Gennaco's report notes that the officer who blocked the bicyclist's path with the cruiser was to receive "training with regard to the potential significant dangers" of such a technique.

The incident also led Palo Alto police to review its policies for apprehending bicyclists, the report states.

"Given the possibility of injury or other unpredictable outcomes arising from the speeds and complications of the pursuit, the incident prompted the department to consider updates to its use of force training," the report states. "One proposal was to incorporate weighing the seriousness of the offense against the risks involved, similar to its vehicle pursuit policy."

In its internal review, Palo Alto police also recommended more training regarding "pursuing and apprehending fleeing bicyclists and the attendant dangers."

While Gennaco's review deemed Palo Alto's internal investigation "impressive" in identifying performance issues relating to both the officers and to the department as a whole, he had a few quibbles. He noted that Palo Alto police didn't do sufficient follow-up to the alleged profanity used by the officers while restraining the bicyclists (the profanity was "corroborated by the in-car recording system").

He also wrote that the officer who pursued the bicyclist and ultimately took him down was not interviewed about his actions, an omission that Gennaco's report calls a "significant gap."

This was the second of two Taser incidence that Gennaco reviewed in 2012. The first case, in which officers deployed the Taser during a traffic stop on a man deemed to be under the influence of drugs, was determined to have been appropriate.


Posted by wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Did the cops suspect that the bicycle was stolen before they started tazing and brake checking him? Or was all this because he ran a stop sign? I'm all for using violence against thieves, but I see cars running stop signs every day and I never see cops shooting at them.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2014 at 6:43 pm

According to the report (found at the link in the article)--

The incident began when a suspect, who turned out to be sixteen years old, fled from officers on a bicycle that authorities later determined to be stolen.

Posted by Concerned Citizen, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm

This is our opportunity to see how well prepared is our Chief Burns to deal with incidents like this one. Will he turn a deaf ear or will he train the police officer on when and how to use the tasers. Let's wait and see. What is next taze seniors?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Well, that's one way to deal w/all of the cyclists who blow through red lights and stop signs.

Who's more stupid - the kid who cycles away from the cops, or the cop who tries to taze him? Wait, the kid's brain is still developing, so he has a reason for his stupidity. The cop, not so much.

Posted by We're doomed, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 8, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Really? Police now aren't allowed to curse when arresting someone who doesn't pull over when told to? And "wow" it wasn't the fact that the guy ran the stop sign that prompted the taxing and brake checks, it's the fact that he fled police that prompted the enhanced tactics! People, if you obey our law-enforcement officers, you won't get tazed. Simple as that! Finally, a 16-year-old is not a boy! We are all doomed if we don't allow our law-enforcement officers to do their jobs. When someone flees a police officer, they usually have a good reason to flee. I bet the person whose bike was stolen will join me in saying, "good job" to the PAPD.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2014 at 10:24 pm

If a bicylist is riding past an officer, why can he/she just push the bike over? I thought Tasers are a weapon to be used just before a firearm. Do officers shoot bicylists or drivers who refuse to stop?

Posted by CresentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:17 am

>> The incident began when a suspect, who turned out to be sixteen years old, fled from officers on a bicycle that authorities later determined to be stolen.

The risk should be on the officer. If this were not the case, that is, the suspect was a "bad guy" I would fault the officer. Obviously do not Taze someone about to ride into traffic because they might die. Since this ride was a bad guy ... I think the officer was doing the right thing. We tend to forget in our hurry to attack authority that some authority is necessary and most of these officers know what they are doing and who they are dealing with. Yeah, we see the jerk cops on the You-Tube videos, and they need to be outed, nailed, fired or charged ... but let's wait and see if the police got the right guy by the only means necessary.

No, I don't think anyone thinks it's OK or should be policy to shoot anyone for bicycle theft. That should be the pleasure of the bicycle owner! ;-) Just kidding. The point for me is that we have a society that somehow encourages people to try the law, try to get away, not do the right thing, think they can run away or escape from their bad actions ... and we should be trying to reverse that is as professional and just way as possible in my opinion.

I rather our Police be catching bicycle thieves than consorting with prostitutes in hotel rooms while they are on duty like Menlo Park seems to think is OK.

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 9:45 am

Was this a white kid or a black kid? Somehow, I have a hard time believe that a cop would pull this stunt on a white kid. Am I a racist for thinking that, or is the cop the racist for actually doing it?

Posted by Another parent, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:09 am

Parent, I don't know if you're racist but you do. What I do know if that you have no clue whether the kids is actually white, black, Hispanic, Samoan, Vietnamese, or Pakistani. Your last 9 words show that you assume the suspect was black. If anyone else assumed the suspect was black you'd call them a racist.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:10 am

Who cares what color he is? The cop tasered a THIEF. What's the big deal? Don't wanna get tasered? DON'T STEAL. Maybe a little electric shock therapy at such a young age will help get that message through. NO excuse for a "developing brain." Most kids over the age of 6 know that stealing is WRONG. Now this finding will cause a lawsuit and we will actually pay for this creeps misdeeds and fund him for lawyers needed for future misadventures. He won't learn a thing from this.

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

I have a stop sign in front of my house. If a car is not coming absolutely no bicycles stop for it. A good place for taser practice?

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:15 am

I don't see anything in this report saying that the cop suspected the kid of being a thief before trying to taser him. The report said the cop tasered the kid for running a stop sign.

Was the kid actually convicted of theft or is this just something that the cop made up after the fact?

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:19 am

Typically fleeing from the police is a pretty good sign that you are up to no good.

Posted by Dennis, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:19 am

The sense I get reading ".. discharged a Taser while the youth was bicycling at, and ultimately, past him" is that at the time of discharge the officer is no longer dealing with stop sign issues. The youth is putting the officer in some danger and evading. The excerpt says the youth was later "cited for the stolen bicycle". It is tough to know what the situation here is because I do not have all of the facts. My inclination would have been to charge the youth with endangerment and resisting but this appears to not have been pursued (maybe there wasn't a good case).

So, why did the taser fail to perform? Police are armed for a reason.

Posted by Raymond, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:50 am

I am not a Police Officer and I have never used a Taser; but I do know that firing a taser at a moving bicyclist is about as stupid a move as I've ever heard of.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

parent - you're not a racist for questioning if the officer is, you're a realist - especially in Palo Alto. Too much racial profiling is done by police for you to *not* question it.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Enough - you need a reality check. Tasering a minor for running evading the police, when he wasn't wanted for other crimes, is the fault of you COP, not the minor. The minor was found to be a thief after the fact - it's a mere property crime, not a strong arm robbery. YOUR cop put YOUR city in this ridiculous position, and the audit bore this out.

Posted by Julian, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm

"while the youth was bicycling at"

Charging a person on a moving bicycle is potentially lethal for the pedestrian, c.f. the recent murder conviction for the same in San Francisco. The officer was entitled to self-defense.

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm

What's a faster and safer way to defend yourself? Step out of the way or deploy and fire your taser? Only trigger happy people will choose the latter. Besides, apparently the cop did not get run over by the bicycle, so the bicycle was not really about to hit him when he fired.

Posted by MadamPresident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I am with the "We're doomed"'s post

also, the main issue here is running several Stop signes - which I observe happens all the time in PA - with no police reaction, so I am glad there was a reaction there

and no, I don't thing cops are oevereacted - 16-year old is not a child in body, & if he was disobeying, he should have be dealt with as an adult

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Besides, if the kid was never charged with assaulting the cop, I am dubious that ever really happened. Endangering the cop's life enough to cause him to fire his weapon in self defense is assault, even if the kid did not make contact.

Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm

This was an incident in 2012! The review process took over a year to complete? Are you kidding me? Do things really move that slowly in this city?

Also note that it was only the 2nd time a taser was even used in the entire year. If, as a police force, they manage to use that type of restraint, it's obvious that in this situation, it was probably a bit overboard.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

For those who need reminding that a male minor is, indeed, a boy: Web Link

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 9, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Hmmmm, maybe YOU need a reality check. There are far too many people who consider the residents of Palo Alto and their belongings fair pickin's because of their wealth. I'm tired of having my stuff stolen, and I'm sure other people are sick of it as well.

I'm wondering, do you feel the same way about the kids who attend the middle schools in PALO ALTO who are stealing cosmetics etc at Walgreens and CVS by taking the desired object into the restroom there and concealing it in their backpack, only to have parents threaten lawsuit against the store and the loss of job to for the employee catching the thief? Is all that ok in your book too????

It's exactly your attitude why thugs, young and old, know that Palo Alto is a good place to victimize people.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

So how often is your stuff stolen, Enough? Maybe you need your own taser, so that your town doesn't leave itself open to more expensive lawsuits due to stupid use of tasers.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Stolen even once is not cool. Don't give me grief, even Steve Jobs house was broken into. There's no excuse for stealing unless a person is hungry or cold. Period. You make a choice to inflict misery on another person, you shouldn't be surprised if misery is inflicted back on you. Back in the day, it was called CONSEQUENCES. These days, no one needs personal responsibility, they have apologists to justify their actions.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Hey, you invited the question by saying, "I'm tired of having my stuff stolen, and I'm sure other people are sick of it as well." Was the theft recent? Was it traumatic? I'm trying to understand why you'd approve of your police tasing youth, leaving your city open for expense legal action. And it's not like an auditor's services are free.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Were these the same officers who last September chased a young woman in their police vehicles with sirens blaring, and strong arm arrested her for riding her bike through the California Ave underpass? The proposal to train police officers to weigh the seriousness of the offense against the risk involved is a good idea.

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on Jan 9, 2014 at 7:21 pm

What's the proper way for the police to pull over someone riding a bicycle who won't stop?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 1:10 am

Wow, lots of unrealistic comments ...

First, Tasering is not a punishment, what I got, maybe I read it wrong, from the article was that the kid had committed a crime and failed to stop ... thus the Taser.

If enough "suspects" are allowed to run and some of them outrun the police, it will encourage others to try it. Does anyone disagree. I don't like that the suspect was moving on his bike at the time ... doesn't say in what circumstances or how fast ... he may have been preparing to take off and not moving very fast?

A bike going through a stop sign is just not a big deal. Remember the bicyclist has to risk their lives to go through an intersection so there is a strong motivation to look and see if anyone is coming. There almost never is when they do it, and most I've seen are more than willing to stop if there is someone coming, or you do not give them the OK to pass. This idea of vilifying bicyclists is silly.

Different people steal for different reasons. The law and moral sense says you have a right not to have your stuff stolen, once, more than once or under any circumstances. I had my bike stolen when I was 17 right out of my front yard. It really messed with your head, your attitude and your idea of other people.

Riding your bike at someone is a crime, either assault or negligence, and could be very harmful, even fatal, this is not a joke.

Posted by Bunyip, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 10, 2014 at 7:28 am

When did we become a military state. "you must obey" and police officers instructions or escalating force can be used. [Portion removed.] Have a look at the UK where it's a police service not a police force. You have a conversation with police, they don't swear, yell, intimidate, be violent, in getting there suspects. Gun crimes are low, death by cop is almost non-existent. [Portion removed.]

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 7:35 am

> Have a look at the UK ...
> You have a conversation with police, they don't swear, yell, intimidate, be violent ...

OK, to have a conversation with the police you have to be NOT be on a bicycle trying to get away when they want to talk to you ... if there's no "or else", why should a criminal have that conversation?

Posted by Reality, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

The kid was evading police on stolen property. With the string of robberies and theft in Palo Alto what do people expect? Furthermore, If he was innocent why did the young man decide to run away from POLICE OFFICERS? Would you have preferred the officer use pepper spray? What would you do if you were the officer, ask him to stop and if he doesn't just let the thief get away? Enough is enough. Step out of the bubble.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:38 am

Some of the criminal coddling dolts around here seem to think that every criminal should be given an exact 50-50% chance to escape of they are being put upon, discriminated against or victims of police brutality and abuse! What about the brutality of the crime that law-abiding citizens don't have any choice about? It's bad enough that we get robbed by Palo Alto Utilties (see other article) they can already get away with it with impunity.

Posted by Bunyip, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 10, 2014 at 9:08 pm

[Portion removed.] Just because they have a badge does not give them the right to be disrespectful. Respect gets respect. If I was a minority youth, given the way the heavy handed police treat them, I would run to. NWA said it best..

Posted by Foodie, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:47 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Bunyip, it's plain you have some problem history with the police. Sure, when police misbehave they should be help MORE accountable than ordinary folk ... but while they are in the act of doing their jobs you have no proof, indication or reason to think they are misbehaving or have bad intentions ... and it does not release you from your responsibility to obey the law and an officers orders. The time to complain or charge is later. I think video is a great idea, but we cannot having everyone who doesn't like the police getting exemptions from having to listen to them.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Whyzit that letter writers hollering racism ALWAYS assume the perp (victim) is black and the cop is white. Who are the real racists?

Posted by u are, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2014 at 4:18 pm

you are the racist.doesent matter what race in this incident,but to say asking about race in a police incident is ''racist'' means you are agressive to people who merely want to know if ''race'' is ever involved in any incident. you are racist for denying non whites the human right to question. i suggest you go somewherte else and live with your arrogant racist hatred to concerned citizens who dont have human rights in their own country.

Posted by Christina, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 12, 2014 at 12:13 am

Cooperating with law enforcement is not a guarantee of fair or legal treatment, and with the ever-mounting number of instances of excessive police violence, it's a wonder that more people don't run from them. At least to me, it seems like no big surprise that when people are armed (pun intended) with the authority of the law, going overboard is easy. Suspect (guilt unconfirmed) too fast to run after? Shoot him. Teenager too stubborn and scared (not denying his guilt, though it was unconfirmed at the time) to comply? Taze him.

Posted by Hutch 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Who cares the kid wasn't even actually tased besides he tried to run. Just more hate spewing from anti law enforcement crowd.

Posted by readerA, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:56 am

First, We should thank the officer for doing his duty to enforce the safety laws and stop the rampant stop sign running cyclists. On top of that, he should be commended for catching a thief. Last but not the least, he used taser on a criminal who was trying to run over him with a bike. That is a fully justified use of force.

The stop sign running, police ramming thief got what he deserved! He should be put in jail to receive some "training" of how to be a good citizen.

IMHO, the officers should be rewarded.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Well, gosh, readerA, are you a law enforcement auditor? I'm guessing not. You & Hutch should be more realistic. I'm pro-law enforcement, because they're a necessary entity in our society. That doesn't give them carte blanche to act like idiots, which this one did, and the auditor's review bears that out. Otherwise you'll see continual lawsuits. Don't think that PAPD isn't above foolishness - their history proves otherwise.

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