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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Justice Department Announces Franklin County, Ohio, Sheriff's Office Has Fully Implemented Agreement Regarding Use of Tasers


The Justice Department announced today that it has jointly sought and received court approval to terminate a settlement agreement with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) in Columbus, Ohio, regarding the deployment of tasers in the Franklin County jails.  The move recognizes the successful implementation of reforms by the FCSO that resulted in a dramatic reduction in the use of tasers overall, as well as substantial improvements in policies, procedures, training and accountability and review mechanisms in those limited circumstances that tasers are used.  

The settlement agreement resolved allegations that the FCSO inappropriately used tasers against detainees, including persons with disabilities, in violation of their constitutional rights.  The allegations were initially brought in a class action lawsuit filed by Ohio Legal Rights Service (now Disability Rights Ohio), a federally designated protection and advocacy organization for persons with disabilities.  The department filed a statement of interest and later intervened in the lawsuit under its enforcement authority under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. 

The U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio approved and entered the settlement agreement on Feb. 4, 2011.  The agreement prohibited sheriff’s deputies from using tasers against any detainee who is not reasonably perceived to pose a threat to the safety of the deputy or others and is not resisting by use of physical force.  The agreement further restricted the practice of using tasers against persons who question a deputy’s commands in a non-violent manner, or who remain in a limp or prone position.  Critically, the settlement agreement prohibited the use of tasers against persons who are known or reasonably believed to be pregnant, are intoxicated due to drugs or alcohol, or are mentally ill or physically impaired.  To achieve these reforms, the agreement detailed changes to FCSO’s policies, procedures, training, accountability and supervisory review mechanisms, including the use of de-escalation techniques, heightened reporting requirements by each deputy involved in a use of force and triggers for automatic higher-level review by the Internal Affairs Bureau.

On Dec. 24, 2015, the department joined the FCSO and Disability Rights Ohio in a motion to terminate the settlement agreement, citing the sheriff's sustained substantial compliance with the terms of the agreement for more than two years, as required by the agreement’s terms.  On Dec. 28, 2015, the federal court granted the parties’ joint motion to terminate the settlement agreement in light of these improvements.

“We are pleased to see the Franklin County Sheriff's Office reform its use of force practices in its jails, especially with respect to persons with disabilities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The accountability mechanisms implemented through this agreement will ensure that the positive outcomes will be sustained long after the agreement is terminated.” 

“The termination of this agreement illustrates the positive changes implemented by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in its policies, training and accountability in regard to taser use, particularly when involving those with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart of the Southern District of Ohio.

Section 14141 authorizes the department to bring a lawsuit seeking remedies to eliminate a pattern or practice of misconduct by law enforcement agencies.  The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Ohio and attorneys with Disability Rights Ohio to investigate, negotiate and monitor the successful implementation of reforms to the use of tasers in the Franklin County jails. 

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