COLUMBIA — Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said the department was saddened by the news of a Moberly man's death after being Tasered early Thursday, calling it a "tragedy all around." He also said he fully expected a wider backlash against the use of Tasers in Columbia as a result of the incident.
The death comes less than two months after a Columbia man was critically injured after he was Tasered by a Columbia police officer and fell from an interstate overpass. Earlier in July, the City Council had approved the purchase of 40 more Tasers, so the majority of the department's patrol officers would be equipped with Tasers.
That decision prompted outcry from Grass Roots Organizing, the ACLU, Fellowship of Reconciliation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Peace Haven International. The organizations held news conferences and read a resolution at subsequent council meetings, asking the council to reconsider its decision.
The cause of Stanley James William Harlan's death won't be known for several weeks until toxicology results are available. The results of an autopsy conducted Thursday afternoon could take weeks to release because toxicology reports take two to four weeks to complete, Boone County Medical Examiner Carl Stacy said.
The Moberly incident occurred at around 12:30 a.m. Thursday after Moberly police pulled over Harlan, 23, for driving erratically, according to a news release from the Moberly police department. Officers arrested him under suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
When police tried to handcuff him, Harlan began to resist. An officer deployed a Taser to get Harlan to follow instructions, the release states.
Harlan began to comply but refused to remove his arms from under his body so officers could finish handcuffing him, Cmdr. Kevin Palmatory of the Moberly Police said. A Taser was deployed again, at which point Harlan complied and officers handcuffed him. The second deployment was very brief, perhaps between half a second and a second long deployment, Palmatory said.
Shortly after he was handcuffed, Harlan stopped breathing. Before Randolph County Ambulance District personnel arrived, officers performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When paramedics reached the scene, they began treating Harlan. He was then taken to Moberly Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at around 2:10 a.m. Thursday.
The Moberly incident is being investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control at the Moberly department's request. Palmatory said, as an outside agency, the patrol will have objectivity in the investigation.
On July 25, a Columbia man was critically injured when he fell off an overpass onto an embankment after being Tasered by Columbia police. Phillip Lee McDuffy, 45, was threatening to throw himself off the Providence Road bridge over Interstate 70 when the first attempt to Taser him failed. A second attempt was made while McDuffy was trying to run from police. He then fell 15 feet from the overpass onto an embankment.
A week later, Columbia Police and the Boone County Sheriff's Department announced they would hold informational meetings explaining their Taser policies and technical details of the weapons to residents.
On Aug. 4, five residents asked the City Council to reconsider its decision to equip officers with Tasers.
But barring any new information about the Moberly case, the police department plans to move forward with its own Taser program, Dresner said, because there still isn't enough information linking Tasers to deaths. "Situations are often more complicated than they are made to seem," he said.
In response to what Dresner has acknowledged is a daunting public relations problem, the police department is producing a multimedia report on the McDuffy case. Though he would not discuss details, Dresner said it will be "reflective of the information age we live in." With all of the video and photographs available from the July incident, a lengthy written report would not be appropriate, Dresner said. He expects the report to be released sometime next week.