SA Police has defended its rising use of tasers, after the ABC obtained video of officers tasering a man who was on crutches.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the ABC the tasering was unwarranted, dangerous and broke his hip.

The case is the latest to cast doubt on SA Police’s assurances that Electronic Control Devices (ECDs), better known by the trade name “Taser”, are used responsibly and did not pose a risk to the public.

The man, who is in his 50s, was lying on a bed, nursing a broken leg when police came to speak to him about a family dispute in November 2022.

Their conversation — captured on police bodycam and viewed by the ABC— had initially been friendly.

The officers decided there was no action needed about the family dispute, but they were also instructed to get a DNA sample from the man about an unrelated assault charge he was facing, a charge which was eventually dropped.

The man disputed their authority to get the sample and threatened to use “deadly force” if police tried to take the swab.

The man, who is in his 50s, was lying on a bed nursing a broken leg when police came to speak to him about a family dispute.(Supplied)

When officers insisted on their right to take a sample, the man left the room on crutches and picked up a steak knife from the kitchen.

“I had to defend myself. I went into the kitchen, grabbed the knife, and I was heading towards the dining room to sit on the table to negotiate,” he told the ABC.

Police urged him to drop the knife and one officer warned the man that he had a taser.

Bodycam footage shows the man closing his kitchen door and limping away from the officers.

One says: “Just tase him, mate”, before his colleague shoots the man in the back with a taser, making him fall hard onto the floor.

“I felt like someone squeezed the air out of my lungs. I couldn’t move. I just went down, had no control whatsoever,” the man told the ABC.

“I broke my hip. I felt something loose in my hip and painful and I knew something was broken. I told them that and they called an ambulance.”

The police report said the incident had aggravated a pre-existing injury.

SA Police said it could not comment on the case.

NSW Police policy states tasers should not be used on people who are fleeing or disabled, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria all ban their use “on persons where there is a likelihood of significant secondary injuries”.

But SA Police have refused to provide the ABC with its operational rules that outline when a taser can and cannot be used and said doing so would be against the public interest.

Taser use ‘causing distress and harm’

Adelaide criminal lawyer James Caldicott told the ABC he had seen other cases where people at risk of serious injury had been tasered.

“We have a number of vulnerable people who either have medical issues, psychological or physical issues whereby the use of a taser renders the person’s body effectively incapacitated to a degree and therefore the risk of that secondary injury increases exponentially,” he said.

Adelaide lawyer James Caldicott said taser use was “suddenly increasing”.(ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Last year, a man in his 60s living with Huntington’s disease was tasered and pepper sprayed at his care home.

His family complained about his treatment, which left him suffering bruises and grazes.

In that case, the Director of Public Prosecutions chose not to charge the officers, but they remain under internal investigation and could still face sanctions, such as retraining or a fine.

But the man’s nephew, Ashley Francis, said his family were disappointed by the decision.

“I thought it was a joke. It was clear that the SAPOL officers had overstepped the boundaries and went too excessive on my uncle with the taser, with the pepper spray, being dragged out of the house and then stick the knees in,” he said.

“[I want] some accountability and some justice for my uncle.”

Ashley Francis is the nephew of a man who was tasered by SA Police.(ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

The use of tasers on vulnerable people became a national concern when Clare Nowland, a 95-year-old dementia patient, died after being tasered by a police officer at her nursing home in New South Wales.

Lawyer James Caldicott said he supported the use of tasers on dangerous offenders but was concerned that police could be reaching for the weapon too quickly, without trying other forms of de-escalation.

“There are other ways in which police could have or ought to have dealt with an individual and we’re finding unfortunately, across the board that the use of tasers is suddenly increasing, which is causing distress and harm to a number of clients,” he said.

Mr Caldicott said he had also seen instances where tasers were used to make people comply with a police direction, something prohibited by most taser-use guidelines in other states.

“We’ve had circumstances where an arrest is being effected and the person may be hindering to a degree, and so to enable compliance, the use of a taser has been done,” he said.

Taser use doubles in South Australia

SA Police confirmed that type of use was not allowed in the state.

“SAPOL’s policy authorises the use of ECD in circumstances where police officers were justifiably concerned about a risk of serious injury to themselves or others, not for non-compliance,” it said in a statement.

Taser use has risen sharply, more than doubling in the past seven years.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

South Australia was one of the last states to allow officers to carry the weapons on their belts, making the change in 2014.

Former police commissioner Mal Hyde had been reluctant to roll out tasers to general duties officers for fear they would be used too often.

The weapons were also allowed to be fired at unarmed people, sparking fears they could be used inappropriately, and could kill people, as they have in other states.

But then-Deputy Commissioner Grant Stevens said in 2014 that “we won’t see those sorts of behaviours in South Australia”.

“We’ve taken a very considered and measured approach to rolling out tasers,” Deputy-Commissioner Stevens said.

Since the change in policy, SA Police taser use has risen sharply, more than doubling in the past seven years.

Figures provided to the ABC under Freedom of Information show officers fired the weapons 88 times in the 2022-23 financial year, compared with only 41 in 2016-17.

SA Police told the ABC the increase was because the weapons were now being carried by most officers, including those on traffic duties.

In a statement, SAPOL said: “Given the amendment to policy and increased deployment of ECD, it is not unexpected to see an increase in the use.”

SA Police said officers reported that tasers were a good way to deal with violent people.

“Anecdotally, policy changes to authorise the use of ECD where police officers are justifiably concerned about a risk of serious injury to themselves or others, does provide an effective measure to safely apprehend a person who is displaying violence, limiting physical restraint interventions,” it said.

“In the majority of cases, the actual deployment of an ECD to physically incapacitate a person is not required.”

SA Police did not answer questions about whether there was a need to improve officers training or police procedures to prevent tasers being used on vulnerable people.

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