Columbia police highlight recent incident in defending Tasers

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | 11:31 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department defended its use of Tasers at an informational meeting open to the public Tuesday night.

Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said both he and those opposed to Tasers had the same goals, but disagreed on the tools to achieve them.

"Ultimately, the community is going to have to decide whether we're reasonable," Dresner said.

Dresner asked the public not to judge the entire program based on a single incident.

"I know there are things we could've done much better" in the McDuffy case, Dresner said, which is still under investigation. On July 25, Phillip Lee McDuffy was twice shot with a Taser by officers after he had threatened to commit suicide by jumping off the Providence Road and Interstate 70 overpass. After being shot, McDuffy fell off the overpass onto an embankment, sustaining injuries.

However, Dresner pointed to an incident that occurred fewer than 24 hours before Tuesday night's meeting to support the department's continued Taser use.

According to the police report, officers arrived at the scene of a disturbance at 12:25 a.m. on Tuesday. They found a suicidal man swinging a large knife, threatening himself and the officers, the report stated.

In the incident, one of the officers pointed the Taser's laser sight at the subject, and when he still refused to drop the knife, the officer deployed the weapon. The probes struck the subject and immediately incapacitated him, the report stated.

After police handcuffed the man, he repeatedly indicated that he had wanted the officers to shoot him in the head, according to the report

The man was released into medical care.

Capt. Chad Martin of the Boone County Sheriff's Department took exception with some of the discussion surrounding Tasers that has indicated they have a 50,000-volt capacity. He said the figure is misleading.

Voltage, he explained, is the ability electricity has to jump from place to place. The Taser's high voltage can travel two inches through air or clothing.

The actual electrical current that causes harm is amperage, Martin said. According to specifications from the manufacturer, the X26 Taser delivers .0021 amps. By comparison, Martin said, carpet static is equivalent to 30,000 volts and harmless, while a home electrical outlet is charged with 100 volts, but can deliver 16 amps.

Gordon said that people recover very quickly from being Tasered, and cited research that founds Tasers to be reasonably safe. Dresner noted that the department deliberately sought research outside of what Taser International provided.

But Ed Berg, an attorney for Grass Roots Organizing, rejected the findings. He said Taser International threatened to sue medical examiners for libel when they reported Tasers as a contributing factor to death.

"It's a problem that Taser International created themselves," Berg said. He noted, however, that Grass Roots Organizing did not advocate a full ban on Tasers.


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