GUEST COMMENTARY: Police use of force in Columbia growing more out of control

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | 12:02 p.m. CDT; updated 11:03 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Carl Alan Giles peed in an alley. Matthew Schuckmann, in 2008, in some bushes. Peeing in public is definitely no hanging crime, but it's one transgression that the Columbia Police Department deems grave enough to use force. Schuckmann was Tasered and arrested while attempting to flee. Giles, according to eyewitness accounts, was pepper sprayed and, when on the ground and restrained by a group of officers, Tasered two times. The 27-year-old was unable to move afterward. In total, at least 10 officers were present to subdue the man. Witnesses called it an overreaction, but such police behavior has become the norm in Columbia.

The image of Giles lying collapsed, unable to move, brings the death of Stanley Harlan to mind. After Moberly police killed Harlan — Randolph County Coroner Gerald Luntsford ruled the death a homicide on November 13, 2008 — a sensitivity to police use of force has grown among mid-Missourians. It has led us to call into question what use of force is acceptable and when such force is acceptable. A citizen review board is being created. For the most part, that debate has centered around Tasers, which are merely a new and unfamiliar means to the same end, but what I see in Columbia is a pattern of police aggression where officers systematically transform a non-violent situation into a violent spectacle.


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I understand that there are times when use of force is necessary. Sometimes the police need to defend someone, such as during a domestic violence call, and in those cases the police are to be applauded. Sometimes, however, it's hard to say who was right. The case of Phillip Lee McDuffy, who was threatening to jump off of a freeway overpass, is one such borderline case.

And sometimes the use of force is downright absurd. Most of these cases involve a disobliging person to whom the police respond with physical measures. Willie Smith was in the wrong place at the wrong time, pepper sprayed and beaten by officers while he was working. Ricky Coleman, a high school student who "became agitated," according to the police report, was Tasered multiple times by an officer. And Giles suffered a similar fate. The list goes on. The disturbing reality is that there are certainly countless other cases when people weren't around to watch.

We'll never know because, according to the Police Department, they almost never make mistakes. Not long ago, the Missourian's Tram Whitehurst reported that out of 1,027 police uses of force, the police admitted they were wrong only twice. That's .19 percent of the time. And forgive me for being skeptical, but nobody is that perfect. Lt. John White, head of the Professional Standards Unit, gives a very clear and simple answer in the story: "The law gives us a lot of leeway on using force. We are allowed to be the aggressor, but we're not just randomly using force."

Being the aggressor is hardly a way to defuse a tense situation, and it's an invitation to physical confrontation. Aggression is usually met with aggression without a second thought. As a matter of instinct, if I'm in an alley at night and someone grabs my arm, police officer or not, I'm going to pull it away. I'm going to resist because that's human nature. That instinctual act criminalizes the individual, making them subject to beatings, pepper spray or Taser use.  

Any reasonable person must reject the idea that everyone who pees in public should be shot with a Taser. It is fundamentally unjust that in a peaceful — albeit unsanitary — situation, the police actually create violence. It's totally unnecessary and calls for a citywide discussion.

The new chief should explain to the people who pay his salary why police officers systematically — without justification or penalty — abuse their authority as we have seen with the cases of Coleman, Schuckmann, Smith and Giles.

Paul Weber is a former Missourian reporter. He is currently working as a journalist
in Berlin.

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Alpaca Alpaca August 4, 2009 | 2:37 p.m.

Good work Paul, glad you're keeping your ear to the ground, from Germany no less. wie ein Chef

Another shining CPD moment from 2008:

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 4, 2009 | 3:47 p.m.

Are there a chain of Cafe' Berlins in Berlin?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 4, 2009 | 7:16 p.m.

How convenient you forget to mention that the suspect had one cuff on then began to resist arrest so the officer was obviously forced into the position of using her pepper spray after slamming said out of control suspect into said wall once again.

Dam f'ing bleeding heart Liberals in this community are going to be the death of it yet or a police officer who will not be allowed to do their jobs!

Yes the Tasering might have been over done as a few of those big burly officers could have just planted a foot of a leg on the back of his neck and another across his legs until he called the hell down but the thing is said suspect resisted detention thus escalating the situation.

The officer did what the officer must do!

If you do not want yourself slammed onto the wall or hood of the cruiser,then pepper sprayed and potentially Tasered then pull your head out if your back end and cooperate with that officer who is on the scene.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 4, 2009 | 7:22 p.m.

>>> planted a foot of a leg on the back of his neck <<< should have been "or" instead of "of"

>>> legs until he called the hell down <<< Calmed instead of called.

Bleah spell check on my last post but you candy arsed citizens just piss me off at times.

One day because of this type of crying like this you will get an officer killed. Think about it.

(Report Comment)
joe withheld August 4, 2009 | 8:18 p.m.

officer molly bowden: i get the impression that *some* won't be convinced that cops already have enough to deal with until this tragedy happens again.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 4, 2009 | 11:30 p.m.

I wonder how the police would have handled the situation if tasers were not available.
Maybe we should give the bicycle harassment ordinance a six month hiatus and do the same with tasers and see how things get done without them.
Would the drunk and disorderly get cuffed without being shot?
Would detaining and investigating the "outstanding warrants" find the suspected public urine-ators sitting in patrol cars or temporarily on the ground at gunpoint, while backup is on the way?
Just how did the police manage before taser salesmen came along? When do we get more user-friendly and more humane technology? Is there such a thing when dealing with potentially life threatening situations?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 5, 2009 | 5:08 a.m.

Sure ray they can always handle it better but let me explain part of what I think goes on in a male police officers mind when he rolls up as back up to a female officer calling for help.

This can be cross viewed to as any male going to the back up of a female in trouble or even another male. It comes back to human nature which alot of times the Adrenaline in our bodies pumps out in huge amounts under duress.

This is just my take but if a female officer calls for back up then the male officers hear this call their natural Adrenaline kicks in to get to that female officer ASAP.
It is like a protective pack mentality of sorts that can be traced back through the history of animals themselves. Male police officers are naturally going to be over protective of female police officers on duty. It is just the natural hormones all men have to deal with. Now controlling those hormones is the ticket in all of this. We cannot drug our officers into submission but I am sure they can be alerted to this natural occurring issue and be better alerted to the potential problem.

Now tell me after the death of Molly this might not be the case. The male pack lost one of it's own in the form of a pack female and that is very concerning to all of the pack males. Once again it is only natural. Now if the suspect was resisting and was bad mouthing said female officer while still being handcuffed and face down and a pack male pulls up on the scene and before "checking himself" as he leaves his cruiser is still in that heightened state of Adrenaline and sees said suspect still resisting,still bad mouthing said female pack officer it might be we can come to the conclusion that said pack male officer might have thought to use his Taser just to gain or help said pack female officer to gain the level of control desired. Once again it is only a natural react of sorts in assisting said pack female officer.

Remember folks this is just my thinking and does not reflect actual occurrences in any way but it is a line of thought alot of citizens do not think about nor post about here or anywhere that I ever see. If anybody thinks my line of thoughts above might be far fetched then maybe contact a law enforcement Psychologist to see if my statements are out of line.

I am not pro Taser by far but I am pro people and all people have the potential to screw up or over react.

It is too bad Paul Weber and others reporting on this issue are not thinking more outside of the box when they write these columns.

Maybe Rick Gurley or Tom Dresner can chime in on this if they see this. Tom did post about this on the Trib.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 5, 2009 | 6:25 a.m.

I'll discuss what I think about your post on guy cop vs. lady cop etiquette at a later date, and how hormones impact behavior, but my concern right now is whether or not beat cops are savvy and agile enough to defuse situations, detain via the spoken word, quick cuffing, plasti-cuffs or patrol car isolation. Seems to me I'm reading national and international news on how its so much easier to zap a perp then secure a perp with more humane techniques.
Was Giles' initial encounter with a lady officer?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 5, 2009 | 8:57 a.m.

As you brought it up, the following may be of interest...
I too was one of many who paid my respects at the Paige Sports Arena in 2005.
It was a sad time indeed.
Also not too long ago...

TODAY'S QUESTION: Should police be banned for 30 days from using Tasers?
Police Department use-of-force reviews rarely find fault ...
COLUMBIA — Of the 1027 times Columbia Police officers used force against a suspect between 2002 and March 2009, the department's internal ...

Police Department admits improper use of Tasers - Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department admitted to improperly using Tasers in two arrests in a report submitted to the City Council. ...
--Just some history.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 5, 2009 | 11:00 a.m.

ray that was a great chat we had this morning over breakfast and I hope now you will go back and reread the main articles on this issue and the responses to those articles. Take your time reading as all of the information I mentioned is already there.

(Report Comment)
Jim Peck August 6, 2009 | 11:43 a.m.

This kind of thing is happening all over the world. Recently, in the U.K., police in riot gear and a helicopter broke up a party of fourteen people cooking hamburgers on a grill in a field on private property. The police called it a rave. And, although it was only 4:00 p.m. and no music was playing, the police forcefully ended the party.

This was, clearly, a preemptive strike. Police are using force against peaceful people who, sometimes, are not even breaking laws. We must let them know we are watching and care. If we do not, we will face the same fate Germany and the world faced under Adolph Hitler's time in power. And, it seems only logical, that World War III will be much messier than World War II.

Thank you for keeping your eyes out for us, Mr. Weber. Hopefully, people will begin to notice and the outrage that is so long overdue will begin.

(Report Comment)

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