COLUMBIA — A coalition of community groups is claiming that by not disclosing police reports for incidents in which officers used Tasers, the Columbia Police Department is not following Missouri’s open records law.
In a statement released Friday, the Coalition to Control Tasers, which is made up of eight local progressive groups, said it has tried to obtain arrest records from Taser incidents dating back to May 1, and that the department has used provisions of the Missouri Sunshine Law to keep the records closed.
Ed Berg, a member of the Coalition to Control Tasers, said in the release that the department has also refused to provide documents regarding the incidents at free or reduced charges, and have “reclassified documents,” thus preventing their disclosure.
“The failure of the police to follow the spirit and intent of the Sunshine Law in making the information available to the public causes residents to be suspicious of Taser use by the officers,” Berg said.
Mary Hussmann, another member of the Coalition to Control Tasers, said the latest high-profile Taser incident, in which Carl Alan Giles was shocked with a Taser on Aug. 1 in an alley behind Cafe Berlin, has raised questions about the department’s adherence to new Taser guidelines. Shortly after Chief Ken Burton started in April, the department agreed to adopt a set of 52 guidelines for Taser use outlined in a national report by the Police Executive Research Forum.
“What good does it do to have Taser PERF standards if officers aren’t following them?” Hussmann said in the release.
Deputy Chief Tom Dresner said in an e-mail message that there have been 14 incidents involving a Taser since May 1, and that only four involved the actual deployment of the device. Ten of the incidents involved either a display of the device’s laser sight, or a “spark demonstration,” in which an officer shows the device's ability to conduct an electrical charge.
Dresner said the coalition’s statement “blindsided” the department because the group had not previously voiced the complaints to the department. He said Burton has met with the coalition twice since taking office.
“It's sad to think that after we came to agreement about the PERF standards that our mutual spirit of cooperation seems so short-lived,” Dresner said in the message.
He also noted that the Police Department receives an average of 50 Sunshine requests a day, and will not give special treatment to the coalition.
The coalition’s statement is the latest step in a yearlong struggle with the Police Department over Taser records. It began in August 2008, when Berg filed a request for records related to the department's use of Tasers. In November 2008, the department released 49 records from 69 Taser incidents from that point in time dating back to 2006. The 20 records that weren’t released were closed because they were incidents involving juveniles or they were part of an ongoing investigation.
Columbia Police Sgt. Krista Shouse-Jones, who is the interim custodian of records for the department, said the incidents for which the group has requested records since May are still active investigations, and said those records could be kept closed even while a case is in the court’s appeals process.