UPDATE: Activists air concerns about Taser use

Monday, November 24, 2008 | 7:10 p.m. CST; updated 9:32 p.m. CST, Monday, November 24, 2008
Linda Green of the mid-Missouri chapter of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom spoke Monday morning at the Labor Temple in Columbia. She talked about cases in which she said the Columbia Police Department used questionable judgment in Taser use on citizens.

COLUMBIA — A panel of six activists held a news conference Monday morning to discuss their findings after reviewing the records of 49 Taser incidents released by the Columbia Police Department last month. The Police Department released a response to the conference that same morning.

About 30 people sat inside the Labor Temple at 611 N. Garth Ave. There, the Taser Control Coalition discussed their impressions of the current state of the Columbia Police Department’s Taser policy.

The coalition is formed by four advocacy groups: the American Civil Liberties Union; the NAACP; the mid-Missouri chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; and Grass Roots Organizing, who first filed the Missouri Sunshine Law request.

Ed Berg, attorney and GRO volunteer, first submitted the request in August, according to Missourian archives. Columbia police released the records on Oct. 31 in a report that was 910 pages in length and included police reports on incidents in which a Taser was used on a suspect, the disciplinary actions taken against officers involved in Taser misuse, Taser-use policy documents and all listings of less-than-lethal use of force since 2002, according to archives.

The meeting started off with a statement by Linda Green, a member of WILPF, who described an incident in the report in which an officer used a Taser on a man fleeing from him. The officer had approached the man on suspicion of urinating in public.

“We need to ask, ‘What is wrong with this picture?’” Green said. “Did the officer follow regulations?”

Green said that the use of a Taser in this situation was “completely inappropriate,” as there was no imminent danger to the police, the suspect or the public.

Katherine Murrie, a member of GRO, later discussed the need for stricter policies concerning the use of Tasers on the mentally ill.

“These situations are very complex,” Murrie said.

Murrie said her impression after reading the records is that the department is lacking consistency in how it handles the mentally ill. She also said she would like to see the creation of a crisis intervention team, consisting of both police officers and mental health officials.

During the question-and-answer session at the end of the conference, the subject was brought up again, this time in regard to veterans. It was proposed by one of the conference attendees that the department should work with the veterans hospital to improve its policies in handling veterans with mental illnesses.

Carolyn Matthews, an attorney on the board of the ACLU, read aloud a proposal by the coalition to hire help from the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center when dealing with incidents involving a person with a mental illness.

Berg discussed GRO’s request for the Taser records and expressed his disappointment that 20 records were not disclosed to the public. The records were not included in the report because they were dismissed, were still pending in court or concerned a juvenile.

Columbia Police Capt. Zim Schwartze said in a Nov. 21 e-mail that juvenile cases are always closed and that the department cannot provide a report in which the identifying information is redacted.

Berg also brought up the topic of creating a citizen oversight committee for Taser use and said that it is the most important measure that needs to be instituted.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala attended the conference and addressed the issue. While there is no set date, he said he thinks the creation of an oversight committee will begin by Jan. 1 and that a group should be functioning by spring of 2009.

In the Police Department's release Monday morning, Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said that although the department welcomes public debate about its Taser policy, continual "subjective criticism by a third party with an arguable agenda" is not something they can engage in.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Marcie McShane November 25, 2008 | 7:46 a.m.

Once again these groups are more concerned about the rights of law breaking citizens than they are the rights of the law abiding majority. When someone is committing a criminal act, is law enformcent expected to take time to determine if that person suffers from a mental illness?? And what makes members of these organizations think they are as, or more, qualified to determine proper usage of a taser, than are trained law enforcement officers and officials? I guess if these average citizens are able to determine that, so are the rest of us, so we could all just carry tasers around to use on all these punks and thugs that are on our Columbia streets these days when they assault or rob us. Maybe a citizen oversight commmittee needs to be instituted to oversee these groups!

(Report Comment)
sim namore December 8, 2008 | 9:23 a.m.

July 2008: An accident victim is tasered 19 times by those who serve and protect. A 16-year-old with a broken back is clearly a threat to these fine officers--it's darn tough to comply with much of anything with a broken back--don't you agree, Marcie?

"Sara Sheffield reports on an injured teen from Ozark, Missouri who was tasered up to 19 times by police.

Doctors believe 16-year-old Mace Hutchinson broke his back and heel after falling, as his injuries are consistent with such a fall. The boy's family does not understand why police would have tasered the the teen 19 times after he was so seriously injured.

The teen's father said that the use of the taser caused Mace to develop an elevated white blood cell count, leading to a fever that delayed the young man's otherwise immediate surgery by two days.

Ozark Police Capt. Thomas Rousset:

"He refused to comply with the officers and so the officers had to deploy their Tasers in order to subdue him. He is making incoherent statements; he's also making statements such as, 'Shoot cops, kill cops,' things like that. So there was cause for concern to the officers."

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 8, 2008 | 9:52 a.m.

Are the examples that Sim cites rare exceptions? If the vast majority of police Taser user is justifiable and causes no permanent damage to the offender, then it's tough to make a case for stripping cops of Tasers. Why not strip them of their guns, batons and pepper spray, too, while you're at it?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 8, 2008 | 11:58 a.m.

Ya if Tasers are causing permanent damage such as the cases of people dying to Tasers then it makes good sense to take those Tasers away. Even just one death is one death too many.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 8, 2008 | 12:43 p.m.

If one death is one too many, then why not strip police of their guns, too?

(Report Comment)
Cullen Breedlove December 8, 2008 | 3:08 p.m.

We should euthanize the old, we don't have enough deaths in this country.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 8, 2008 | 4:02 p.m.

Ayn Rand Tasers were not meant as a "Kill Weapon" from everything I have ever researched about them across the internet I have been able to find but as a weapon to "incapacitate temporarily" only.

It seems though not enough studies were actually done before their use was fully implemented since we now know that Tasers can indeed cause death in some cases. I think the number is over or almost 400 by now.

Guns on the other hand were originally designed to "To Kill" and there in is the difference because a gun can do both as in either kill it's intended target or it can be used to incapacitate it's intended target so with these Tasers there is no way to know the outcome until it is used as being the operator has no real control of said weapon thus nobody knows 100% whether it will kill on the first shot or the second shot but we do know it will kill and has been found to be responsible for said killings.

There is no real control of the outcome of deployment.

The short version: Guns are more controllable while Tasers are not.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 8, 2008 | 4:12 p.m.

I thank and commend the "Women's International League for Peace and Freedom " for raising questions about the "abuse of tasers." The taser is being sold to law enforcement officers as a non-lethal weapon. It has become their newest "toy." The law enforcement community and the public-at-large need to closely watch if the "Taser Salesmen" are accurately marketing these weapons and that they are not "over-used" by those employed to "serve and protect."

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 8, 2008 | 5:03 p.m.

Police departments issue guns not necessarily to kill, but also to disable (e.g., a leg wound) and deter criminals. They are NOT intended only for killing.

I would rather be shot by a Taser than by a gun.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 8, 2008 | 6:13 p.m.

Ayn Rand seems you miss the point of my post.

With a gun it is more and totally controllable in the "kill or to wound methodology" of being used while with a Taser "it is the fact they shoot or deploy it and even the officer or whomever is using it has no idea if the target will die or not".

Do you get that simple fact?

Maybe that is acceptable to you but to me and obviously alot of other citizens that philosophy blows chunks!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 8, 2008 | 7:39 p.m.

A major problem with guns is they shoot a high speed, penetrating projectile. They can go through walls, and hit innocent bystanders. A Taser cannot - they have a very short range. Only the person intended will be hit with the probes.

More people have been killed with police batons than by Tasers. Every weapon a cop has could cause death under the right circumstances. It's just another tool in an officers box.


(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 8, 2008 | 7:51 p.m.

Chuck, your post makes no sense whatsoever. A gun is more controllable than a Taser? Huh? As Mark notes, a gun shoots bullets. These are not the same as barbs. A Missourian reporter took a Tase about a year ago as part of research for a story. He would not have done the same with a bullet.

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock December 8, 2008 | 8:22 p.m.

While listening to local radio host Tom Bradley, I heard him say that he believes the critics of the Taser were a small but vocal group. What do y'all think of that? Do we have a large contingent of people who believe Tasers are trouble, or is Bradley right and it's a small but vocal group?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 9, 2008 | 3:13 a.m.

Jake Sherlock if you go research it up online there are alot of various groups working to eliminate Tasers around the world and one of the biggest is Amnesty International although they are working more in the United Nations than anywhere else but where better to work IMHO.

If you are wondering how big this is getting our little city here is starting to show up on the first pages of most of the search engines when you type in text strings looking for articles on this issue.

Everybody is entitled to their opinions on this subject whether you agree with them or not is your choice but from off the get go it was always said Tasers were meant to be a "non lethal alternative" <<< NOTICE THE WORDS "NON LETHAL" but we have plainly seen in what now over or almost 400 cases that is obviously not the case with the use of this weapon.

I even have seen companies beginning the work on "Anti Taser Clothing" so if that becomes the case what new fashion weapon will be used next on the general public?

Sure Batons and other police weapons have caused death and I know these things quite well in fact but what you still seem to miss the point of is that with Tasers nobody knows for 100% surety if the subject it is deployed against will die or not. With the other weapons they actually can know.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 9, 2008 | 6:07 a.m.

"with Tasers nobody knows for 100% surety if the subject it is deployed against will die or not. With the other weapons they actually can know."

This is false. I can shoot a robber in the leg with the goal of only disabling him so he can be caught. But if the bullet hits his femoral artery, or if he's a hemophiliac, he could bleed to death on the spot.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 9, 2008 | 7:27 a.m.

Ayn Rand no it is not false due if you shoot somebody in the leg you can tie a tourniquet to slow the flood of bleeding but with a Taser if you deploy it you do not know if the subject will die or not.

It is a 50/50 gamble with the life of another human being. That is not acceptable by most moral standards of common decency.

We can go on like this for pages on end of this back and forth commentary but you will not change my mind if that is your intention or trying to prove me wrong which you are failing to do.

Tasers are the most unpredictable weapon on the streets today in the hands of those trained in their use or not trained in their use. That is fact.

Nobody can say 100% of the time that any Taser deployment will not nor cannot have the potential to cause sudden death due to this weapons unpredictability over the long run of all information freely available for anybody to research.

Argue all you want about these basic common sense points of view but it is only common sense and a common consensus view that any citizen can plainly see or come to if they study this issue long enough.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 9, 2008 | 7:57 a.m.

Chuck, if a bullet plows through your femoral artery while you're in the ER, there's a good chance that they couldn't save you. A tourniquet would be a useless as peeing on a forest fire.

As I've said before, you would argue that a wall is black when you just painted it white yourself.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 9, 2008 | 8:11 a.m.

Ayn Rand you still grasp at straws to try and prove points and are still failing.

Why don't you use your real name so we all can know who it is posting instead of hiding behind the name of a dead person.

All of the rest of us are required to.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 9, 2008 | 8:29 a.m.

Come on Chuck - don't start with the real name thing again. You're not winning this one, so you bring up that old distraction again. It doesn't matter what his real name is.

Rodney King was killed with police batons. A baton is an example of a weapon that is usually thought of as non-lethal. Some police carry brass knuckles, or short clubs, as emergency weapons, and they can kill under the right circumstances. People have been killed by being hit with a bare fist.

No weapon a police officer deploys has a 100% chance of being non-lethal. Not one. The Taser is just one weapon of many, which you seem to have some ususual fear of.

Virtually everyone that gets tased does not require medical attention. Subjects that get hit with batons or bullets usually do. Which is the most humane and effective weapon?


(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock December 9, 2008 | 8:36 a.m.


Actually, Rodney King is alive and currently appears on "Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab."

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 9, 2008 | 9:06 a.m.

Sorry, I thought he was. There's some sports figure that was beaten to death by police, that caused a lot of riots in Florida when I was down there. Age catches up with us sometimes...


(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 9, 2008 | 11:11 a.m.

To answer Jake Sherlock's question, I think he (or rather his summation of Tom Bradley's comments) is correct. CPD officers didn't even deploy the Taser in over half of the occurences when the device was pulled from its holster. On the flip side, the case mentioned above where the fleeing person was tased is disturbing and I would think against CPD's Taser policy, but I have not read the underlying report that CPD released to the city council to get the full details.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 9, 2008 | 2:27 p.m.

>>> No weapon a police officer deploys has a 100% chance of being non-lethal. Not one. <<<

Total case of misinformation because as is taught in all Martial Arts Classes which police take the basics in they are taught about "pressure points" and as such with the PR-24 or w/e it is called you can hit one of those pressure points and temporarily in most cases incapacitate a subject.

Your statement is wrong Mark.

And for people using their real name here as required by the guidelines the Missourian has presented for us to go by yes it is important to show their accountability.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 9, 2008 | 3:17 p.m.

Well, Chuck, things go wrong. People have been killed by a punch to the stomach, bursting a previously unknown aneurisym. People have died from all manner of blunt force, even when the intent was only to disable the subject. To hit these "pressure points" (if I even believe what you're saying - I don't think you know), an officer has to get close to the subject, increasing the risk that he will lose his gun or otherwise be injured. A Taser allows an officer to disable a violent subject from a distance.

The issue here should not be Tasers, per se. The issue should be how they are used. If officers are using them as conveniences, or indiscriminately, then this has to be addressed. Tasing someone who is running from an officer is probably unjustifiable. Tasing a guy with a knife that is getting ready to attack a fellow officer is quite justifiable. Don't blame the tool - blame the user of that tool.


(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 9, 2008 | 3:19 p.m.

Chuck, police choke holds CAN be deadly. For example, the carotid-restraint technique is known to be fatal, to the point that multiple courts have ruled that it's deadly force (

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 9, 2008 | 3:41 p.m.

Maybe we should ban batons from police officers as well, since you never know when one will be used to sexually assault someone who runs from them?

Or maybe, you address the problem officer(s) and leave a tool that works for those who can use it according to well-developed policy?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 9, 2008 | 4:51 p.m.

Chuck, in a previous Taser discussion on here you said, when I mentioned that GRO and the other related groups were not seeking to ban Taser, "No but they are wanting alot tighter restrictions which I agree with as well." So which is it, do you want Tasers out of the hands of the CPD or should they keep them with reasonable training and policies?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 9, 2008 | 5:31 p.m.

Mark Foecking >>> People have been killed by a punch to the stomach, bursting a previously unknown aneurisym. People have died from all manner of blunt force, even when the intent was only to disable the subject. To hit these "pressure points" (if I even believe what you're saying - I don't think you know), an officer has to get close to the subject, increasing the risk that he will lose his gun or otherwise be injured. <<<

Show me some hard numbers to back up your conjectures. You should know the drill by now. Don't be just tossing out randomness being you are a credited Professor at M.U. or some such title.

Please present us all with some numbers to back up your conjectures at least so that everybody reading can learn.

Oh and how do I know so much about pressure points on the body you ask or assume I do not know what I am talking about? You learn alot about those things after several long years of formal Martial Arts training under a registered teacher.

Myself personally I would like to see better training and procedures implemented on the use of these fashion weapons which the new "Crisis Intervention Team" will ensure and if it does not then it and the CPD I am sure will have to answer to GRO and all citizens of this city.

The cat is out of the bag now with those reports going public and GRO is just looking to skin that cat so we can all be assured that things will always be evaluated better in the future unless Columbia wants to keep getting bad publicity in the national news.

As I said everybody is entitled to their views but you people who post here will not change mine no matter how much you try. Only changes in policy,training of officers and better procedures in the field will ever "Show Me" that this issue is actually being worked upon so everybody benefits from that change and not just a token few.

I'm done.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 9, 2008 | 8:01 p.m.

How will "changes in policy,training of officers and better procedures in the field" make a "50/50 gamble with the life of another human being" go away (both quotes are yours)? Either you think Tasers should be done away with, or that they can be issued to CPD officers for some uses.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 10, 2008 | 4:39 a.m.

>>Show me some hard numbers to back up your conjectures<<

Well, here's a guy that dies of carotid artery rupture after a fight. He had no obvious signs of trauma:

Here's where police punched and kicked a suspect to death. No Taser here:

Police used batons in this one:

There's a lot of these incidents. Any weapon police use can cause unintentional deaths. You never told me - what is your specific beef with the Taser?

If you've studied martial arts, you know that to use them, you have to be within punching or kicking distance of your opponent. This means that your opponent is close enough to grab your baton, or gun, and use it against you (if you're a cop). Having a weapon that works at a distance is a huge safety consideration for officers.

Your "Crisis Intervention Training" may keep police from having to use weapons in some cases, but there will still be situations where police have to use force. I see no reason at this point why the Taser is any worse than another weapon a cop might use, and in some cases it's a whole lot better.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 10, 2008 | 9:44 a.m.

And the Crisis Intervention Team members cannot be everywhere at once. There will be circumstances where a non-CIT officer will have to make a decision due to the situation before any members of the CIT can be on-site. Not all officers, not even a majority if I remember correctly, will be going through CIT training.

(Report Comment)
James Herring December 10, 2008 | 12:40 p.m.

I have friends in all sorts of local, county and federal agencies. I am, what I consider, a typical law abiding citizen, and I err on the side of law enforcement. With anything that can be lethal or non-lethal these days, it seems that common sense is a casuality. If anything is deployed against a suspect; be it a taser or a 12 gauge, the person doing that is doing it out a fear for their life, the safety of others or the welfare of the individual. I do not think we should ham string the police any more than they already are. With courts, law suits and everyone wanting to sue over every little thing, have we forgotten that there are human beings behind the badges? If someone breaks into my house, assaults me or my loved ones, I will do everything in my power to stop them. The police have to risk THEIR lives for people they know nothing about, their politics or religion and they do it for not much money. Better to err on the side of the taser and with someone who has been trained to use it, than not to have anyone their with anything. Just my opinion.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 15, 2008 | 5:13 a.m.

In case you missed this press release:

TASER Talk to Open Council Meeting

BEAT BYTES -- 12/14/08

A quartet of speakers representing the ACLU, GRO, NAACP, and the Mid-MO Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, will present their findings on 48 of the 69 TASER deployment cases from the Columbia Police Department at tomorrow night's council meeting.

"It troubles us to report that in the 48 cases, we have found TASERs being used by officers inappropriately," the group claims in an open letter to media outlets. "Many cases indicate that officers are using TASERs not to protect themselves, the suspects, or citizens in 'imminent danger.' but often as a time-saving convenient means to control suspects-and, in a few instances, to punish."

Source: Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 15, 2008 | 5:17 a.m.

And the above is going to happen after this meeting here:

The Columbia Police Department is pleased to announce our involvement in the development of a Crisis Intervention Team for the Columbia/Boone County Area. Crisis Intervention Teams, (CIT), are a community collaboration between law enforcement, mental health providers, mental health courts, and advocacy groups. They are designed to better equip police officers to interact with individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis by providing specialized training and creating a plan to better match individuals in crisis with mental health providers. CIT is a nationwide effort the Columbia Police Department has been researching for some time. The collaboration between law enforcement and other stakeholders will insure that those individuals needing assistance in our community are better served.

The patrol officers that are selected for CIT would attend a 40 hour specialized training and would wear a pin on their uniform designating them as CIT officers. This has proven valuable in other communities as the subjects in crisis realize they are talking to an officer that
have special training and may understand the issues a little better and may communicate a little better.

The Columbia Police Department will be partnering with Boone County Sheriff's Department, the University of Missouri Police Department,the Boone County Mental Health Court, local mental health providers and advocacy groups to implement this team concept in the Columbia/Boone County Area. Our introductory meeting will be held on
Monday December 15, 2008 at 1:00 – 2:30 PM at the Boone County Government Building, Commission Chambers. The media is welcome to join us at the meeting as we begin the collaboration process.

Lt. Dianne Bernhard 12/12/08 8:51 AM
Patrol Shift Commander, Columbia Police

All concerned citizens should try to attend if they can.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 15, 2008 | 11:51 a.m.

If you think this issue of law enforcement using Tasers needlessly against the Mentally Ill is something new please read the story on this link.

Warning you might be a little shocked by the video:

This story here and others just like it are why I advocate as strongly as I do and will continue to do so as long as this issue goes unresolved.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.