Use of Taser on woman a success, police say

Thursday, October 16, 2008 | 9:25 p.m. CDT; updated 11:20 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 9, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department says the use of a Taser on a woman threatening suicide with a knife earlier this week shows how practical Tasers can be for officers seeking to de-escalate dangerous situations.

"In this case, we feel the Taser saved somebody's life," Lt. Diane Bernhard said.

Tasers make interactions between officers and subjects safer for both parties, because they offer an alternative to firearms, she said. The Police Department has said in the past that injuries to officers have dropped significantly since the department started using Tasers in 2005.

According to the police incident report — obtained by the Missourian through a Missouri Sunshine Law request — two officers responded at 12:30 a.m. Monday to a call from Colonial Village Trailer Park in the 2900 block of Range Line Street, where a 33-year-old woman was wielding a knife and threatening to harm herself.

Although police did not know it at the time, the woman's friends and family had been concerned about her well-being for several days leading up to the incident. On Oct. 10, the Department of Family Services notified her that she was going to lose legal custody of her three children because of the living conditions at her home. In the report, police said a 19-year-old man told them that after she found out about the decision, the woman talked about overdosing on medication and driving into oncoming traffic.

When the officers arrived at the residence, the person who first called 911 told them that the woman still had the knife but was being restrained. At that point, according to the report, one officer drew and turned on his Taser and entered the house.

Inside the house, the officers instructed the 19-year-old man to step away from her and then repeatedly told her to drop the knife. The officer with the Taser pointed its laser sight at her upper torso. The woman, who was sitting on a couch, did not move or say anything in response to the officers' instructions and did not drop the knife, the report states.

As the officer with the Taser was instructing the woman to drop the knife for the third time, the other officer at the scene, a sergeant, told him to "go ahead and do it," the report states.

The officer then fired the Taser at the woman; one probe struck her left hand and the other probe hit the couch she was sitting on. Because both probes did not strike the woman, she did not receive the full electrical current from the Taser, which can reach 50,000 volts. But according to the report, the shock was strong enough to temporarily distract her.

The woman dropped the knife but would not turn around to let the officers handcuff her, the report states. The officer with the Taser then used the weapon as a stun gun and shocked the woman on her left leg. At that point the woman complied with the officers, and they were then able to handcuff her.

"I was concerned (the woman) was going to attempt to commit suicide using the knife in her possession," the officer with the Taser wrote in the report. "I was also concerned (the woman) might become homicidal and attempt to harm officers."

In a news release published the day after the incident, the Police Department credited the officer’s use of the Taser for preventing any injuries that day. “The Taser was an effective tool in de-escalating this potentially violent situation,” the release stated.

But Grass Roots Organizing , a Missouri-based advocacy group opposed to the Police Department's expanding Taser program, is concerned that the department only wants to share Taser information with the public when it reflects well on the department and the weapon.

"It seems suspect that they issue a press release in this instance, but Tasers are being used all the time," Mary Hussmann of GRO said.

The group filed a Missouri Sunshine Law request in August for many of the department's Taser-use records. In response, the Police Department said the request would cost $883 and take several weeks to complete. But last week, Mayor Darwin Hindman intervened in the dispute and told the department to get the records to the City Council, which would then make them available to the public free of charge. The department expects to complete the request by the end of the month.

Bernhard defended the Police Department's policies and said it issues news releases about Taser incidents when they are "press worthy." There are a lot of incidents involving Tasers, and the department can't issue a release about each one, she said. They determine which incidents to release by the seriousness of the situations and the way the officers used the Taser in resolving them.

Columbia police have used Tasers in two recent situations in which a person was threatening suicide. In July 2008, officers used a Taser on a man threatening to jump off an Interstate 70 overpass. He fell more than 15 feet and suffered serious injuries. Just a few weeks later, on Aug. 5, a 38-year-old man with a large knife who was threatening to commit suicide was shot with a Taser by police when he would not comply with orders. No one was harmed in that incident.

The woman in Monday's Taser incident did not suffer any serious injuries, according to the report. Paramedics took her to University Hospital after the incident, where the probe was removed from her left hand. She was then released into the custody of the hospital to receive psychological treatment.

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Charles Dudley Jr October 17, 2008 | 4:59 a.m.

>> The officer then fired the Taser at the woman; one probe struck her left hand and the other probe hit the couch she was sitting on. Because both probes did not strike the woman, she did not receive the full electrical current from the Taser <<

So another report of a Taser failing to deploy properly. How many is that now? My question is if these fashion weapons are failing like this which has been openly reported to the public then how many are we not hearing about? How far away were they when this weapon was deployed as well? 5 feet? 10 feet? 20 feet? Would be nice to see some numbers on that now wouldn't it? If you are going to release a report the citizens are entitled to a detailed report I would think if the CPD wants better community understanding in the use of this weapon they are defending.

Also by the report they obviously did not talk to this woman very long at all and how long was it that they talked to her as obviously she was in crisis of a sorts. How long did they talk to her? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes?

The above questions are ones the citizens of Columbia are entitled to know about in these reports being released.

Does CPD have a Crisis Team say as St Louis does? I have been informed that St Louis has such a crisis negotiation team that they use and that they have many officers trained in these types of situations. Maybe our City Council should be looking into this type of training for our police officers in the near future since this seems to be a going trend of Tasering citizens in a mental crisis instead of having a Crisis Team that might be able to talk that person into surrendering peacefully.

I'm just a concerned citizen asking questions so do not come on here hating on me but you really should be worrying about those who are not giving you complete answers to the public at large and not expanding upon ideas that are being openly presented.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens October 18, 2008 | 2:47 p.m.

This is interesting. Notice that the article and the police report states that the woman was being restrained. Rather than assist with restraining her and putting her into cuffs, the officer tells the 19 year old to back off. Where is the logic to that? I mean she was obviously already subdued in some capacity even if they were wrestling around. I have assisted University Hospital Security staff while the staff was wrestling with a mental health patient. He grabbed one arm and I grabbed the other and the cuffs went on. Simple. Instead, CPD wants to come in like 'gangbusters' and "control" the situation for the sake of the safety of the officers and the suspect right? Gimme a break.

An interesting point is raised with the other post about the crisis team with law enforcement trained mental health professionals if tactics are needed. I was told by our interim Chief that this was discussed at one point but have since been put on the backburner. Yet we still taser people with mental illnesses.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 18, 2008 | 3:02 p.m.

>> An interesting point is raised with the other post about the crisis team with law enforcement trained mental health professionals if tactics are needed. I was told by our interim Chief that this was discussed at one point but have since been put on the back burner. Yet we still Taser people with mental illnesses. <<

In our modern day and age we are supposed to be more advanced than the barbaric days and ways we used to do some things as. That is the point of going after,looking into and coming up and nurturing the ideas that will shape our society of tomorrow into a world where the barbaric ways and mentalities of old are no longer needed except in the most extreme of cases.

I thought some people were more intelligent than that in our modern society we propose that we are all apart of. I guess we are still just as barbaric as in the days of "Sparta".

This video reminds me of how alot of people come across on the use of the Taser in taking care of problems.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 18, 2008 | 4:28 p.m.

{Use of Taser on woman a success, police say}

The Police can "say" whatever they want. Just because no one was killed, it doesn't make the outcome the best success possible.
We don't "need" tasers to subdue the mentally ill or emotional despondent.
Without a Crisis Intervention Team, CPD will always be a failure in my book.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 18, 2008 | 4:32 p.m.

ray shapiro I agree with you 100% but how some citizens come across on the use of the Taser in all instances as of late is just like supporting the methods as back in the days of "Sparta" so that is where we are at now.
Truly we have not come very much farther than those times and the only thing that has changed is the design of the weapons used and the mentality behind the design.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 18, 2008 | 9:35 p.m.

Nathan, when you helped subdue that person, did they have a butcher knife in their hand?

CPD has a matrix I think they call it, that prioritizes whom they take care of in an incident. My recollection from the Taser meeting that I attended (did any of the critics here?) is as such:

Other civilians
Person of interest/suspect

In other words, the actions the police take are first to protect hostages, then any other civilians, then themselves, and finally the person in the middle of the situation. Going up to someone with a knife and trying to cuff them, pretty please, goes against this matrix. This is why they asked the restraining (and who knows how well that truly was) person to step away, to get them out of harm's way.

Chuck, Nathan, and Ray, is there any case you think a Taser should be deployed, or are you entirely opposed to their usage?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 18, 2008 | 9:48 p.m.

John read what has been actually posted here about the use of Tasers against the mentally ill citizen in general and then you can see our view points.

I think I can speak though in this issue as it seems to be a consensus point of view that the use of the Taser is often times the only weapon police know of to use these days.

The point of all of this is some citizens come across on the use of the Taser in all instances as of late is just like supporting the methods as back in the days of "Sparta" so that is where we are at now.

Truly we have not come very much farther than those times and the only thing that has changed is the design of the weapons used and the mentality behind the design.

Prove this point wrong in comparison to how Tasers are now the new fashion weapon of choice.

I thought some people were more intelligent than that in our modern society we propose that we are all apart of. I guess we are still just as barbaric as in the days of "Sparta". Watch the video and how it flows.

This video reminds me of how alot of people come across on the use of the Taser in taking care of problems.

No offense John but if you cannot understand these very simplistic points of view I present here then I do not ever think you would ever change your mind anyway.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 18, 2008 | 11:40 p.m.

Video has been removed, but probably irrelevant to this discussion.

If the Taser is the only type of weapon the police know how to use, then why has it only been used (and not even to put someone "under power") less than 200 times over the past few years? Seems a bit dismissive of our local police forces to say such a thing.

The Taser sure seems less barbaric to me than shooting someone or beating them with a baton.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 19, 2008 | 5:06 a.m.

You still miss the entire point which does not surprise me at all in this issue as in every post not just here but on the Trib Board you are totally and completely 100% pro Taser in all that you present on this subject which can be constituted as you really are not open to any other ideas presented not just by myself but by alot of others who have done so.

Oh the video is quite relevant and I'll post the same video once again: If it goes down again there are a million other sources of this same video across the entire internet. They cannot sensor them all.

This is just about the same mentality alot of people have who are so pro Taser that they will not be open to any other ideas presented in the use of Tasers.

John Schultz in all of the posting we have done on this subject not only on this site but on the Trib Board as well not once have you come up with any other ideas nor presentations to alternate means besides the forceful use of this new fashion weapon against those with mental illness issues.

I and others would figure being you are the head of the Libertarian Party of Boone County that you would,could or might at least try to present any and all alternate ideas as isn't that what party leaders and community leaders do to help their citizens when problems are pointed out by those same citizens your party claims to want to represent and to lead.

I post as a concerned citizen in all of these matters and as such I know there are better and alternative methods to the primary use of the Taser and as such when these incidents keep popping up and especially concerning citizens with Developmental Disabilities of the psychological nature I will continue to advocate my views and opinions until something is done that proves our police department as well as other law enforcement agencies are not 100% pro Taser usage when it comes to the citizens of not only this area but this country on this issue.

I also at this time welcome and challenge you as the Libertarian Party Leader of Boone County to do the same if you truly care about those whom you claim to represent amongst the disabled population of Bone County. Are you for truly helping all citizens of this county and this entire nation or not?

This is not about me or about you but it is about the common citizen.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 19, 2008 | 12:05 p.m.

Chuck, do you think the CPD should be carrying Tasers at all? Quit beating around the bush and let us know where you stand on that issue.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 19, 2008 | 12:49 p.m.

John Tasers are good only in the most extreme of cases and as such there is always a better way to do things especially when it comes to negotiations of any kind that involve incidents concerning those with Developmental Disabilities of the psychological nature. To think other wise is just a serious lack of real intellect and being able to look at this issue from all angles and the willingness to go that extra mile in putting together a better program. They are people to just like anybody else and they deserve to be treated as human beings and not as some animal that does not feel,care or possibly not understand.

You John Schultz continue to miss the point on this entire matter I have explained in depth many times not only here but on the Trib Board as well.

Now you answer the questions in my last post or are you just dead set against any other method besides the use of the Taser in dealing with the Developmentally Disabled who have psychological problems and the times that might over take them when they need real help and not a Taser to the body.

Remember this is not about you or me but this is about them and them is the citizens of Columbia at large whether they are disabled or not as anybody at any time can suffer from a psychological break.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 19, 2008 | 4:02 p.m.

I support the CPD taking whatever measures are necessary in resolving situations. That may be a Taser in some situations, negotiations (assuming the person of interest has any inclination to do so), or other less lethal methods (pepper spray, batons, holds).

In this specific case that you are agitated about, we have very little information on the mental state of the person in question, yet you have assumed she is developmentally disables or has "psychological problems." Is it possible that the use of the Taser kept her from harming herself? Also remember that the police department's matrix (hope I'm using the right term) requires the police officer to not put themselves in danger when taking actions against a suspect/person of interest, so they were not going to try to grab the knife from her.

Please let me know where I have encouraged only the use of a Taser, and no other options, on citizens of Columbia. I think it is you who is missing my point. You like to claim people keep missing your points; maybe you should phrase them more clearly. I suggest you talk to the city and see if you can get a copy of Captain Dresner's Taser presentation from a few months back.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 19, 2008 | 5:50 p.m.

You still miss the point but maybe this link will help you and others to further your education in this issue but then again you are quite infamous for stating any and all ideas I present are irrelevant in nature:

John Schultz you have proven to be Pro 100% Taser by the simple facts of you have not come up with any alternative proposals to this ongoing situation that is being plainly presented here and over on the Trib Board.

I thought politicians were supposed to be progressive and proactive members of the community they live in to help develop better and more ideas to help their citizens along for the betterment of all citizens in the future. You have failed to do so on this issue continually.

Once again this is not about me. It is though about them. The citizens of Columbia.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 19, 2008 | 7:02 p.m.

Chuck, I have pointed you to minutes of the city council meeting where the CPD is proposing such training. That training is not going to be a solution for every situation.

I am not a politician, I'm a citizen, one who personally doesn't care for your assertions, misstatements, and flat-out attacks on people (and not just on myself, I might add). Frankly, you are like arguing with a brick wall except those serve a purpose. Keep up your line of attack and watch more people tune you out or marginalize you as that crazy guy.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 19, 2008 | 7:59 p.m.

John Schultz this is bigger than any City Council Minutes as this issue is still on the back burner as in the case of this last Tasering case.

John Schultz keep not presenting sound and reasonable solutions as I present and citizens will know you for the complacent and non active citizen in the development of better ideas that will help our community.

You forget I have nothing to lose by presenting sound and factual as well as reasonable ideas to issues presented in local media stories of this type but you have everything to lose being you are the head of the Libertarian Party of Boone County and as such your party claims to want to help this community and the county as a whole but by your failure to present ideas and only attack those presenting ideas you just show more and more that you are not for helping the people but only helping yourself.

Once again this is not about me John Schultz as you so claim it is about this issue and it's solutions. The citizens of this city do not deserve any less.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 20, 2008 | 9:57 a.m.

So let's presume the city does go through this training and still employs Tasers and still uses them occasionally (not the continual usage you imply). What will you complain about when this magical training does not eliminate Taser deployments completely?

Chuck, this is not about me or my political affiliation or what you think "we" are trying to do. It is about debating the issue and if you can't handle the questions or comments I make, that is out of my hands. If you make comments or suggestions I do not believe are factual, then I will call you out on that, as I would expect anyone to do of me.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 20, 2008 | 10:47 a.m.

Let's address the issue though as you finally want to and as I have been since the beginning.

I will place a positive speculation that if such a Crisis Intervention Team is implemented that you will see alot less Tasering incidents in this city as a whole due to as in the Houston Team they are trained specifically to use alternative measures to ensure the safety of the subject who is having a psychological break of some sorts. That is the faith I and others across the country have in these types of Crisis Teams.

It will take though certain kinds of officers to be able to step up into a position with in a team if it so created. It will take beyond 100% dedication beyond the dedication they have now for their jobs.

I am not saying they are not 100% dedicated now but this team will take those kinds of officers who will be willing to go beyond the extra proverbial mile and even in these other like teams not all of those who apply are chosen for the team. That is the way these teams are formed.

They are an Elite Group due to the nature of their work and their training as well as the time they put in themselves to get that extra training and understanding needed. That is how much these teams matter in cities across our nation. Go research these types of teams online and you will see.

I do support the use of Tasers but I do not support their use when there are alternatives to their use that could and can be used if only looked upon and implemented.

Maybe even our City Council and the CPD could even use the Houston Team as a role model in working together to build up a team in our cities future or even the St Louis Team as as mentors and training personnel.

Maybe somewhere a Federal Grant is available to send some of our top officers to Houston Texas to begin training in this type of a project so they develop and are familiar with these types of teams. After all the Houston Crisis Intervention Team is quite extensive from reviewing their web site in the link I posted above and has been in place for quite along time.

The only limits to the implementation of such a team are the limits we as human beings put upon ourselves and others when it comes to the security and over all protection all citizens deserve whether disabled or not.

I'm done on this. I have made sound and quite reasonable view points on the issue here. There is no more to be accomplished by me but there is alot to be accomplished by other concerned citizens who might just feel the same as I do.

If you feel as I do contact your City Councilmen and all others who you feel will listen to your views. Only in this way can your civic leaders know how you feel and how you as a citizen of Columbia feel the way YOUR city should be going in.

(Report Comment)

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