Taser a Deadly Weapon? - Not the Legal Issue in Atlanta Brooks Shooting
Must Also Create a Significant Threat of Death or Serious Bodily Injury
But that's not the complete legal issue, suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf, since a person holding a knife (clearly a deadly weapon) 15-20 feet from an officer would not appear to present a significant threat, whereas people who used a shoe - not ordinarily regarded as a deadly weapon - to beat another person have been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon ("ADW shoe").
In short, many apparently innocent items - e.g., a shoe, or a pen or pencil - may become a deadly weapon, and justify the charge of assault with a deadly weapon, if they are used in a way so that it reasonably appears to be capable of causing serious injury or death; for example, shoving a pencil up a victim's nose, or beating his head against the ground with a shoe.
In a famous case of Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court held that a police officer may not use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect unless the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
This means that even if someone who has committed a serious felony would forever escape if the police did not shot him as he fled, they may not use such deadly force unless it appears that he is likely to harm police officers or a member of the public if he is not stepped then and there.
So while the fact that a Taser may not be regarded as a "deadly weapon" would certainly undercut any argument by the shooter that he had reason to fear serious bodily injury from its use, the same would probably be true if Brooks had a small knife but was far enough away that he did not pose a significant risk.
While it is possible for a Taser to cause serious injury or even death, such consequences are very rare. Indeed, says Banzhaf, some police departments require new officers to be shot with a Taser themselves so that they will know what it feels like, and the effect it is likely to have on a suspect.
So even if, at the distance between Brooks and the officer was such that the Taser could have reached the officer, a jury could certainly find that it did not create the reasonable fear of serious physical injury which would justify shooting Brooks.