Use of Tear Gas by Wisconsin Police Officers

Tear gas was created more than a century ago as a chemical weapon to fight other troops during World War I. Today, the Geneva Convention bans tear gas in international warfare, but tear gas is still used by police departments around the world, in the United States, and here in Wisconsin.

During the summer of 2020, many police departments around the country used tear gas during police brutality protests. Wisconsin police departments were no exception. For example, the:

  • Madison Police Department used tear gas on the evenings of May 30, 2020, and May 31, 2020. The tear gas was reportedly used to disperse allegedly peaceful protestors.
  • Milwaukee Police Department used tear gas on May 29, 2020, and May 30, 2020. The Milwaukee Police Commissioner later called his department’s use of tear gas unacceptable during the COVID-19 pandemic and stated that the Milwaukee PD should have used another method to disperse the crowds.

What Is Tear Gas?

The main ingredient in tear gas is 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, which is also known as “CS gas.” Unlike other forms of police force such as a baton or even a gun, tear gas is indiscriminate. When the police throw a canister of tear gas, it impacts everyone in the area it hits rather than one person who may be a threat to public safety.

People who are hit by tear gas may be hurt by the:

  • Canister that holds the tear gas. The canisters are hard and can cause significant injuries such as eye injuries, internal bleeding, bruises, broken bones, and wounds before any gas is deployed.
  • Pyrotechnics that disperse the tear gas. The pyrotechnics that send the tear gas into the air can cause burn injuries.
  • The tear gas itself. CS gas can cause a wide range of both immediate and long-term health conditions, including a burning feeling, a feeling of suffocation, tearing, coughing, chest pain, breathing problems, asthma, dermatitis, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular problems, and other injuries.

In some cases, tear gas injuries are deadly, particularly for people with underlying medical conditions.

Can Wisconsin Police Use Tear Gas?

It is a police officer’s job to protect the public. To do that, there are situations when police officers must use force. However, police officers should only use as much force as necessary to control the situation given the police officer’s reasonable judgment at the moment.

The reasonableness of police force is considered on a continuum. Therefore, in some situations, tear gas may be reasonable force, and in other situations, tear gas may be excessive force. Generally, there are five broad steps on a police officer’s continuum of force, including:

  • A police officer’s uniformed presence and clear identification as a law enforcement officer
  • Verbal warnings
  • Bodily contact such as physically restraining an individual
  • Non-lethal weapons
  • Guns

Tear gas is a weapon that can inflict serious bodily harm and is usually considered a non-lethal weapon, although deaths from tear gas exposure are possible. Accordingly, other police de-escalation efforts should be tried first, and the police should not use tear gas if less excessive force would protect the public.

Excessive Force Is Police Brutality

To determine whether excessive force was used in a specific situation, a court will consider what a reasonable police officer would’ve done given the information available at the time of the incident. If the court concludes that an officer’s uniformed presence, verbal warning, or bodily contact would have protected the police and the public, then tear gas may be considered excessive.

If a police officer’s excessive force hurt you, or killed your loved one, then you may have a police brutality case. You may be able to recover significant compensation for physical injuries, lost income, out-of-pocket costs, pain, suffering, and other damages.

Hupy and Abraham has secured the largest police brutality settlement in Wisconsin history. Our experienced Wisconsin police brutality lawyers are here to help you too. Call us or contact us through this website today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation at any time.

Jason F. Abraham
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Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham