Judge denies NYPD’s motion to dismiss sound cannon lawsuit

Photo credit: Peter Bergin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Mark Chiusano, AMNewYork, writes about the New York Police Department’s use of long range acoustic devices on people who were protesting against “the non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.” One protester, Anika Edrei, ran after hearing a crash that sounded like a bottle shattering near the crowd, but then Edrei heard “a different sound,” one which sounded like a very loud car alarm. How loud? “Another listener described it as the loudest noise he’d ever heard.”

Edrei saw two police officers carrying “a bulky appliance,” which was a long range acoustic device (LRAD). LRADS can be used as a loudspeaker, but they also generate “sharper, high decibel “alert” or “deterrent” tones intended to control a crowd.” Chiusano reports that the police’s use of the sharper, high decibel tone on the crowd was “one of the first times the police reportedly used the tone.” Edrei and others claim that they suffered injuries due to the exposure to that tone.

LRADs are military devices that were developed after the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, but Chiusano writes that the devices “made their way to some police departments, too.” The NYPD purchased two LRADs before the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Edrei and others at the protest have sued the NYPD for injuries they claimed to have sustained from exposure to the LRADs, asserting that after exposure they developed migraines, sinus pain, dizziness, facial pressure, and ringing in their ears. Chiusano notes that:

[I]nternal NYPD documents available so far appear to lend weight to the plaintiffs’ claims. A 2010 document from the department’s Disorder Control Unit says the device’s alternate function can emit sounds at higher levels “than are considered safe to human ears. In this dangerous range (above 120 decibels), the device can cause damage to someone’s hearing and may be painful.

Chiusano reports that the judge “appeared convinced of the possibility of danger, finding a ‘cognizable claim’… that use of the LRAD had constituted excessive force.” As a result, the federal lawsuit will continue, while “the conclusion of a separate lawsuit in June requires the police, in part, to release certain documents about current LRAD training and usage procedures.”

It is disgraceful that a U.S. police department would use a device that can permanently injure its victims on citizens engaging in their First Amendment right to protest.

Comments (8)

  1. Jan Mayes

    Thanks for sharing. There’s been concern about these sound cannons or Long Range Acoustic Devices for a long time. You’re right, they’re extremely hazardous to ears. LRAD have been used as a military weapon to disrupt enemy activity. It concentrates sound into a narrow beam like a spotlight of sound, and is mounted on a swivel so the sound beam can be pointed in different directions as needed. LRAD has extreme sound power (~140 to 151 dB). Although the most intense sound option can be disabled (the 151 dB SPL tone), the LRAD can still produce an extremely intense moving beam of sound that is an extreme noise hazard to hearing for users and for anybody who within its beam. The device also has a voice transmission system (extremely loud public address system). Canadian police were looking into it for 2010 Vancouver Olympics in Canada but got shut down after protests from health and safety folks. If I was going to a protest or riot in a city where police had LRAD I’d have max hearing protection earplugs/muffs (highest NRR)and try to be as far away from LRAD as possible. Isn’t this like ear bullets? With no blood so people don’t realize? I don’t think police should be allowed to use sound cannons.

    Reply
    1. GMB (Post author)

      The problem is that for most people exposed to LRADs they won’t know they suffered damage until years later. Only six people are involved in this lawsuit, but more than six people were at the protest. There’s a theory that some people have “tender” ears while others have “resilient” ears and that is why some people get tinnitus or hearing loss or hyperacusis from an exposure to loud sound while others do not. But no one really knows whether their ears are tender or resilient until something happens. LRADs are appalling wherever they are used. That they were used against peaceful protesters–citizens–exercising their first amendment rights was and is unconscionable.

      Reply
      1. Jan Mayes

        That’s exactly right. If ears bled…

        Reply
        1. GMB (Post author)

          They can, I suppose, if an ear drum ruptures. The people who sued felt immediate effects including migraines, ringing in ears, disorientation,etc. Again, horrific to think police are doing this to citizens who are exercising their first amendment rights. Horrible.

          Reply
  2. Jan Mayes

    FYI Canada shut LRAD down using occupational health and safety regs. Are US police departments compliant with OSHA hearing conservation program Regs if members use sound cannons? Not likely. What does NIOSH think?

    Reply
    1. GMB (Post author)

      Don’t know, to be honest. My guess is that no agency is really looking at what U.S. police departments are doing. The ACLU is involved, we believe, so that may help to bring some scrutiny, but unclear what we could expect from the federal government w/ regard to oversight.

      Reply
      1. Jan Mayes

        I don’t know how it could be stopped either. Online petition???? Police depts keep buying more and more of them. FYI https://www.janlmayes.com/noise-action/

        Reply
        1. GMB (Post author)

          Quite frankly, the lawsuit seems the best bet. I understand LRADs were first used in Pittsburgh for a G-20 meeting. A bystander suffered permanent hearing loss. ACLU was incolved: https://www.aclupa.org/news/2012/11/14/city-pittsburgh-settles-g-20-lawsuits. That said, I understand the NYPD paid out $1 billion in settlements/jury aawards for various lawsuits (excessive force, unlawful killing, etc.) over the last decade. It shouldn’t come down to money, but if suing stops LRAD use, good.

          Reply

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