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Sheriff's Department urged not to equip jailers with device that creates burning sensation

August 26, 2010 |  2:33 pm

A civil liberties organization is urging the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to zap its plans for equipping jailers with a direct-energy device that creates an intense burning sensation when pointed at human targets.

Sheriff’s officials expect the tool to help deputies stymie outbreaks of violence, allowing just a few jailers to break up large-scale brawls.

"Unnecessarily inflicting severe pain and taking such unnecessary risks with people’s lives is a clear violation" of constitutional rights, said an ACLU official in a release.

A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department said their hopes for the high-tech device are in line with the ACLU’s goals: to save lives, and to do so without inflicting injury.

"It was used on me at least a half-dozen times in a matter of minutes without any ill effects whatsoever," said spokesman Steve Whitmore. He described the sensation as an instant burning that ceases the moment an individual is directed out of the beam’s path.

The department plans on installing the device as part of a pilot program in a 65-bed module of the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic within the next couple of months.

According to the ACLU, a military incarnation of the device caused “lasting burns” for five members of the Air Force.

The device the Sheriff’s Department is installing is a scaled-down version, which uses tiny waves that penetrate the skin from almost 100 feet away, causing an intolerable burning sensation that prompts individuals to flee.

-- Robert Faturechi