PIERRE, SD — The use of force on a child sparked controversy after an 8-year-old girl was tased following an apparent suicide threat.
The incident occurred when a babysitter phoned police on October 4, 2013, saying the young girl she was supervising wouldn’t put down a knife and was threatening to hurt herself.
Four Pierre police officers arrived and confronted the girl, identified only as L.M.J. She was holding a 4.5-inch paring knife found in the kitchen.
The force used to quell the situation has drawn varied reactions, and has prompted a lawsuit to be filed against the Pierre Police Department by the girl’s mother, Dawn Stenstrom.
Officers only spent “seconds” trying to reason with the 70-pound girl, according to the complaint, before putting her “into high voltage submission” by firing the sharp prongs of a taser weapon into her chest from roughly 5 feet away.
“The force of the electricity shot through her body, lifted her, and threw her against a wall,” the suit alleges.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are the city of Pierre, South Dakota; former Pierre Police Chief, Robert Grandpre; and the four officers who were at the scene.
Officials backed the officers’ use of force, and the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation ultimately ruled that the police had acted appropriately and found no wrongdoing.
But Ms. Stenstrom did not appreciate that finding, and described the incident as “excessive force.”
“How much harm could she have done?” Ms. Stenstrom asked, according to CNN.
She and her attorney, Dana Hanna, argue that the police could have used other means to remove the knife from her hands.
“One [officer] distracts her, another grabs the girl’s arm. That’s what they should have done,” Hanna said. “She had a kitchen paring knife, but hadn’t cut. She was a kid throwing a tantrum. They should have made an attempt to grab the kid, not use a weapon to throw her into a wall. A Taser’s not meant to kill, but it does kill. Many people have died after being hit by a Taser by cops. It never should be used on a little child. She certainly wasn’t presenting a danger to officers.”
The mother describes the girl as suffering in pain the entire night from the Taser shock and being punctured by the sharp probes. She was not wounded by the knife.