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Monday, June 16, 2008

More on the Tasering Incident

Matt Rexroad's blog drew my attention this morning to a letter to the editor in the Woodland Daily Democrat. The letter was critical of the police's handling of the incident that led to the death of Ricardo Abrahams.

Unfortunately, instead of rightfully being critical of the actions of the police on the scene, the writer resorts name calling and charges of racism.

For instance he writes: "violently and viciously killed by our fine and highly trained Woodland Police Department." He goes on to say, "some of these police officers are no more than group of thugs with badges."

As we discussed earlier on this blog, the death of Ricardo Abrahams has left us with numerous questions about the handling of that case, the police's overall handling of people who clearly have mental disabilities, among other things. I think it is absolutely right to be critical of the handling of this case based on what we currently know. There will be a full investigation that should tell us some of the details that we do not currently know and on that basis, the matter will be adjudicated.

That said, while I may understand the frustration of the letter writer, he goes to far, draws too far and too wide a net, and uses language that actually serves to undermine his case.

Matt Rexroad is inspired to write a response letter to the Woodland Daily Democrat. I probably agree with him on about 90 percent of what he said.

For example:
"Braun has no idea what happened to Abrahams. None of us do. The investigation is not complete. Until it is complete, we need to keep our minds open to the facts that are given to us.

Braun uses terms such as “violently and viciously killed”; he plays the race card and calls our officers “thugs with badges.” How much more uninformed can he be?"
He goes on to say,
"Braun needs to wait until the facts are known before making such statements."
I would in fact go further than that, I do not see any purposes served in using that kind of language--even after all the facts are known.

However, there is one thing that does stand out in Mr. Rexroad's letter than I could not disagree with more.
"They deserve the benefit of the doubt (and more) each and every time."
The police are in a position of extreme public trust. They have the right to take private citizens into custody. They have the right under extreme conditions to legally end someone's life. With that trust that we give them comes a high level of responsibility for which I do not think they deserve the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong.

I think we have the right based on the facts at hand to be skeptical and respectfully (key word) question their handling of a given situation. The officers involved without doubt deserve to have a full and impartial inquiry into their actions. Moreover, they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence not to be called derogatory terms. They also deserve not to suffer collective guilt for the actions of one or more individuals.

However, "benefit of the doubt" goes beyond withholding judgment in given case. It suggests expressing support for these officers in a judgment call type situation. They deserve not to be thrown under the bus, but having spoken to numerous law enforcement people, I have yet to hear one say that given what we know they did the right thing.

Mr. Rexroad also said:
"Woodland Police Officers are well trained. They also are forced to make decisions quickly and without the benefit of the comforts associated with post event analysis."
They are well-trained, but part of my criticism is whether they were trained well enough to handle this situation. Again, this is based on what we know. They get a call from this facility who have a person who is out of control. The response from the police is to try to issue orders. The person is non-responsive. What is the proper way to deal with a non-responsive individual who is known to have mental disorders at the time? That is a question that we need to understand. Pretty much every person I spoke to who actually are involved in law enforcement has told me, using the taser in this situation is not the best course of action.

Second, it appears that they used the taser four times and yet it did not serve it's desired purposes. Again, why is the response of the officers to repeat the scenario if it is not working.

Third, it appears that two officers simultaneously used the taser. Is that an appropriate course of action?

I understand that they are forced to make their decisions quickly and without the benefits of post-event analysis, part of the scrutiny here has to be on the training. What are they trained to do in these kinds of situations?

On a different but related topic

My wife drew my attention to this yesterday. Apparently, one of the new rages is a "Taser Party." Kind of like a Tupperware Party.

Apparently Taser International is marking their products to the civilian market in addition to law enforcement.

I did not see this particular report, although I was able to Google similar news stories. One of the things that was striking was the person talking about how safe it was. Here we have trained police officers struggling with issues on Taser usage and we want civilians to have the capacity to use Tasers?

I will give Taser Internation credit for at least requiring its customers to submit to a criminal background, but I am increasing uncomfortable with the way the police use Tasers, I am much less comfortable with having lesser trained individuals carrying around these types of weapons.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting