COLUMBIA — Five Columbia residents voiced their concerns at Monday's City Council meeting over the Columbia Police Department's use of Tasers, asking the council to reconsider its decision to equip more officers with the devices.
The meeting is the first after Columbia police officers used a Taser on Phillip McDuffy, a Columbia resident who was threatening to throw himself off the Providence Road bridge over Interstate 70. A first attempt to Taser him failed, and a second attempt made while McDuffy was trying to run from police caused him to fall 15 feet from the overpass.
The first speaker, Linda Green of the Mid-Missouri Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, presented a resolution asking police to limit Taser use to situations where a police officer or the public is in imminent danger. The resolution also proposed a task force to study Taser use and recommended police delay the distribution of 70 new Tasers, which were purchased with a grant from the U.S. Justice Department.
The speakers asked the City Council to adopt the resolution. In addition, members of community groups opposed to Tasers attended the meeting to show support and, at Green's direction, stood while the resolution was being read.
Other groups represented included Grass Roots Organizing and the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, Fellowship of Reconciliation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Peace Haven International.
One speaker, Janice Curran, said Columbia police officers had used a Taser on her grandson, Rick Coleman, after a fight at Hickman High School. She said he and a friend were assaulted on their way to lunch and that the fight was broken up by an assistant principal.
As Coleman tried to leave the school, he was confronted by a police officer who used a Taser on him three times, Curran said. She said Coleman did not recall a verbal warning before being hit with the Taser, and since the encounter, he has suffered chest pains that have required medical attention.
"There was no imminent danger, and I do not believe my grandson should have been tased," Curran said.
Curran said she went to the police station three times to ask for a report on the incident but was denied each time. She said she also made a request in writing for the report. Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner, who attended the meeting, spoke to Curran after she spoke and later brought her a copy of the report.
The document shed more light on the incident, Curran said, including that police had used the Taser on Coleman three times. She said he had only recalled it being used twice.
Curran presented the council with 180 signatures supporting the resolution. She had been collecting them at her business, where she had literature on Taser use and written accounts from people who had been Tasered.
Carolyn Mathews, a board member of the local ACLU chapter, presented a resolution the board passed at its July 26 meeting. The resolution echoes the request for a task force to examine police Taser use and a halt to further expansion of the department's use of Tasers.
She said communities across the country are confronting the issue of police Taser policies.
"The debate is still relatively young in Columbia," Mathews said. "Much of the public is still waking up to this issue."
Katherine Murrie of GRO and Jeff Stack of Fellowship for Reconciliation also spoke to support the resolution.
Last week, Dresner wrote a letter to the editor inviting members of the City Council to attend a full 8-hour training program taken by officers being equipped with Tasers. The department is also holding two-hour information sessions for the public Tuesday and Wednesday. Those sessions will be held at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at City Hall.
The goal, Dresner said in the letter, is to give the City Council and the public the "most accurate baseline" to judge the department's Taser use.