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Coalition says police are withholding Taser records

Saturday, August 8, 2009 | 4:52 p.m. CDT; updated 11:17 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 9, 2011

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.

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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.


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Comments

Mary Hussmann August 8, 2009 | 9:53 p.m.

The Police Department only released the 49 cases in Nov.'08 because the CITY COUNCIL requested them and then they made it clear that these cases should be available for free to the public.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 9, 2009 | 4:35 a.m.

Mary Hussmann alot of those cases were also still active in the systems of investigation or in the courts that you requested. They told you and the community those could not be released per order of the law. I am positive that policy has not changed one bit.

The article above states per Mr Dresner that:

>>> 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. <<<

So what gives your group the rights of total domineering entitlement before any other request?

Why does this Coalition To Control Tasers sound like it is using the exact same tactics GRO was using which alienated them from alot of the community?

You would think they would have learned some lessons from that experience.

I do understand the need or the desires for vigilance but if your activist group is going to just use the exact same tactics as before only under another name you are going to end up with the exact same results the other group got too.

All I see in this Coalition to Control Tasers is the same old lines,same old people using the same old bullying tactics and in the end they will once again alienate themselves all over again this digging their hole that much deeper.

Thank you CPD for doing the hard job you have to do and not letting this Liberal Progressive community dictating what,where or how you do your job!

Obviously alot of these people just have no dam clue how hard the streets really are out there. It reminds me of the pacifist dope smoking flower children of the late 60's spreading the words of Love and Peace then in the next moments having radical sit in's,blocking traffic,throwing rocks and other radical measures to disrupt vital community services on the part of City Government. Such a blatant form of hypocrisy.

I am not a fan of Tasers by far but it is just another tool at your disposal and like any tool there is a time and a place for it to be used.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance August 9, 2009 | 9:00 a.m.

<<<<All I see in this Coalition to Control Tasers is the same old lines,same old people using the same old bullying tactics and in the end they will once again alienate themselves all over again this digging their hole that much deeper.>>>

Wow, you should talk. You bully people on these boards. You were the same way when they were going to cut that Paquin program. You protested, called people names if they disagreed that the city had to fund the program.

What I see is that Hussman's "tactics" are working. She is getting press and the attention of those in power. Get over it Chuck, she is just a better organizer than you.

(Report Comment)
Greg Collins August 9, 2009 | 11:05 a.m.

Community activism appears to be what one takes up when face time is needed in the media, but taking the time to legitimately work through the system is insufficient to meet the short term political and long term funding goals. The option then is to insert volume as a legitimate tool to sidestep, shortcut and circumvent the process.

Look at our activitist in chief as prime example of gaming the system to its maximum.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 9, 2009 | 12:15 p.m.

No Tim I debate people bluntly and in your face on these boards not bully. That is the difference because Mary Hussmann and GRO bully City Council,CPD and push agendas that often times blatantly push things into the faces of people in this community.

Tim Dance for one I did not go and request time and again for CPD nor City Council to give exclusive rights via the SunShine Law for any and all records. Those requests take time and city employee hours to put together and that time and money takes away from potentially other important duties.

I did not go bugging City Hall nor the CPD constantly about their use of an instrument that is another tool on their tool belt in the war on drugs and crime in general nor did I start a campaign to potentially eliminate that tool from their tool belt thus making a situation where an officer could get hurt.

If it was not the Taser now it was the Night Stick before. What next their guns too?
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>>> You protested, called people names if they disagreed that the city had to fund the program. <<<

Tim the program has been in place since 1973 and that is a very long time for any program that does and can benefit this community as a whole to be completely funded for that time to just be dropped.

My activist activities have at no time put somebody's life in danger nor do they as Mary Hussmann's portray by the elimination or the Taser from the tool box of law enforcement.

Ya Tim my last year's activist activities and those I associate with who also worked along side of me and I with them to help save a community recreational program that has been in place since 1973 sure must be out of this world radical by nature because what ever we did last year and up until now behind the scenes quietly sure has worked because so far this year and if God is willing and City Hall does not sink into the ground all of us involved will be able to say a simple "Thank you very much City Council,Mayor and Mr Watkins" as the program proceeds another year at the same level of funding we had last year.

Tim go crawl back under what ever Liberal Progressive Rock you crawled out from underneath. You are fun to read and fun to respond to but in reality you are just full of hot air.
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Back on topic to the Taser Debate:

So if CPD cannot use the tools at it's disposal and another officer gets killed in action what will Mary Hussmann,GRO and company has to say as their next excuse for badgering CPD and City Council about how CPD does their job?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 9, 2009 | 2:37 p.m.

Couple of quick comments...

Information that is a matter of public record should be released freely to the public. That is one of the things that the public pays taxes for, an adequate system for keeping track of documentation maintained by our government, and efficiently dispersing such documentation to the public; when such information is deemed a matter of public record. Our taxes are already supposed to cover staffing, equipment, and operations (to include record keeping). Now the public has to pay taxes for this AND pay a fee to receive this information?

Second point; Chuck I remember you preaching about how the Taser should be taken away from the CPD? I also remember you preaching about how the CPD should be more transparent? I also remember you calling the CPD a bunch of "kids with toys", in regards to how they were using the Taser? What has made you do such a turn-around on this issue?

Third point; I have nothing against the CPD having the Taser as a tool to subdue violent criminals with. But, I have to ask the same question of the CPD that they would ask of me if I was a person of interest in a criminal investigation. If you have nothing to hide, why not fully cooperate with all requests for information? Why not just give the public the documents that are deemed a matter of public record upon request?

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 9, 2009 | 3:46 p.m.

>>> Second point; Chuck I remember you preaching about how the Taser should be taken away from the CPD? I also remember you preaching about how the CPD should be more transparent? I also remember you calling the CPD a bunch of "kids with toys", in regards to how they were using the Taser? What has made you do such a turn-around on this issue? <<<

When it came to the treatment of the obviously Mentally Disabled there was a serious lack of their educational value on this issue as a whole. That has now been and is currently being worked on by the C.I.T. program with in the department and by other professionals in the health fields in this community due to those problems being addressed and the C.I.T. program introduced to CPD by Tim Harlon the local President of the Chapter of NAMI. In all of that campaigning there was no real blatant radical measures take by Tim nor any other NAMI members but in alot of it was done behind the scenes and IMHO was a total success and will be in the coming future. Totally with out GRO and the NAACP.

Sure GRO and the NAACP were in there shooting their mouths off at City Council meetings and in the public eye but the real hard nuts and bolts of it all was handled mainly with out GRO and the NAACP in attendance at all.

>>> Why not just give the public the documents that are deemed a matter of public record upon request? <<<

You yourself know Rick that no Law Enforcement agency can knowingly give out those records if an ongoing investigation is still going on as it could tarnish any and all local,State or Federal judicial proceedings before a potential jury was called into a court of law. That would or could be prejudicial and put any and all Law Enforcement officers lives in jeopardy.

Yes all Law Enforcement should be more transparent but only after the rights of the officer are protected,the rights of the suspect are protected and the rights of any judge or jury that might have to trial the case are protected.

If you do not protect those rights then you are proclaiming you want any and all incidents tried in the open newspapers,blogs and any and all media outlets instead of following the laws of the land all Law Enforcement officers of all branches swear to uphold when they take that oath.

If the Coalition to Control Tasers cannot wait as it should be until after investigations and court proceedings are all finished then they should go into State Court or even into Federal Court and get The Law changed which would be a travesty against any and all Law Enforcement officers in this nation and put their lives even more at risk.

Is that what we really want?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 9, 2009 | 6:03 p.m.

Actually Chuck, it would be MUCH better if these records were volunteered by the CPD. Because instead of going to court to get the law changed, what this organization could do is initiate a Federal Law Suit and use the power of a subpoena to gain access these records, without any redaction. Once these records are bought out in court under a subpoena, then they are MUCH easier for ANYONE to get to and the CPD will lose all control of them, because instead of having to go to the CPD to get them, now anyone could get them from the Federal Court House, or possibly right on line with a PACER Account. Also, if that were done, it would be a Federal Judge making the determination as to whether those records could be shared due to any on-going cases that these records might pertain to.

Now, the chances of this happening are slim, but it could happen. Just depends on how committed this new "Anti-Taser Organization" is...

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 9, 2009 | 6:18 p.m.

>>> Now, the chances of this happening are slim, but it could happen. <<<

Well let's all hope it doesn't happen so the protection of all law enforcement officers and their ongoing investigations are maintained.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 9, 2009 | 8:17 p.m.

Rick, if they are committed to getting the reports and not making names for (some of) themselves, they could pony up the cash to go after the reports for the three cases where Tasers were actually used (I'm presuming the recent Giles case is one of the four referenced in the story). I have not see the actual press release printed anywhere, so I'm curious what exactly the coalition is asking for, what was denied, and what the costs are to get what they are seeking. My recollection is that the original Sunshine request was quite broad and also requested several times the number of cases as was mentioned in the story, so a smaller, more focused inquiry like this one sounds probably wouldn't be too expensive compared to the numbers of the group.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 9, 2009 | 11:22 p.m.

John, When I say "committed", I mean committed to getting all of the information they are entitled to in a timely fashion, and committed to insuring that there is a clear understanding as to what records should be produced and whether or not this production should cost the public anything additional over and above what the public is already paying in taxes.

The way you get clear understandings like these, is to sue in court and let the Judge make the distinctions for you.

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 10, 2009 | 3:55 a.m.

If the case(s) is/are still ongoing and not settled those records should not be released for obvious potential judge/jury prejudices that could evolve.

Unless you are in favor of tainted justice.

(Report Comment)
King Diamond August 10, 2009 | 12:54 p.m.

Chuck, they don't have to release any ongoing cases -- It's written right into the sunshine law, http://ago.mo.gov/sunshinelaw/chapter610...

If something would harm someone or a case they can just redact it from the report itself and release all other information.

"contains information that is reasonably likely to pose a clear and present danger to the safety of any victim, witness, undercover officer, or other person; or jeopardize a criminal investigation, including records which would disclose the identity of a source wishing to remain confidential or a suspect not in custody; or which would disclose techniques, procedures or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions"

They should already have all the cases typed up and in a database of sorts, I'm not sure where this would be a big deal to get it online assuming they start marking <confidential> </confidential> tags around information to be redacted.

(Report Comment)

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