The Tallahassee Police Department is facing public criticism after a cell-phone video captured a police officer using a Taser on an unarmed 61-year-old woman on Tuesday. The officer said she was resisting arrest.
A nearly seven-minute video shows at least five police officers arresting two black men in the street as Viola Young and several neighbors looked on.
According to a police affidavit, Young approached police officers because she wanted to "know what was going on.” Officer Terry Mahan wrote in the affidavit that Young was asked to stay back from the arrest area, but she continued to approach the officers. When Mahan tried to arrest her, she walked away, he said.
“Viola Young caused me to take my focus off of one of the arrestees and engage her,” Mahan said. “Young’s actions obstructed officers while in the course of completing their legal duties.”
Mahan was just a few steps away from Young when he shocked her in the back with a Taser gun. She fell face-down on the pavement and spent nearly two minutes motionless on the floor.
"They just tased a lady for nothing," one man says in the video. Young was later arrested.
Young's attorney, Robert A. Harper III, said on Thursday that his client is seeking medical attention. “She is extremely emotional and confused about what happened,” he said. “We will have an idea of her medical condition in the next couple days.”
After watching the video, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo told reporters on Wednesday he had “enough concerns” to call for an internal investigation and placed Mahan on paid administrative leave. Tallahassee State Attorney William Meggs told Fusion he watched the video of the incident but said it was too early to determine if the officer’s response was excessive. “Anyone who just looks at the video is troubled by it, but that does not always paint the whole story.”
Meggs said he planned to contact DeLeo to “move things rapidly.”
Prosecuting an officer for the use of a Taser is rare. Last August, a Fusion Investigation found that a police officer has never been prosecuted for the use of the electro-shock weapon in Florida.
Meggs said he cannot recall a time when his office has pressed charges against an officer for a Taser-related incident.
This is not the first time that Tasers have been used on elderly individuals. Last year, a 95-year old man died after being tasered multiple times and shot with beanbags at a home care facility. Officers said he was combative and armed with a knife.
In 2010, a video showing a 64-year old cancer survivor being tasered three times by sheriff’s deputies in California caused national outrage.
The usage guidelines from Taser International, which produces the weapon, describe the elderly as “high risk population” and say the use of Taser on them could increase the risk of “death or serious injury.”
The Tallahassee Police Department’s policy on use of force says that intermediate weapons like Tasers should be used where there is “active,” “aggravated” or “aggressive” physical resistance.
Young was charged with resisting arrest without violence. Harper said on Thursday his client will plead not guilty. Tallahassee police officials declined to make any further comment on the case.
Connie Fossi-Garcia is an investigative producer passionate about justice, immigration and stories that spark change.