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Citizen Police Review Board to reconsider Taser incident in March

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 | 11:10 p.m. CST; updated 12:20 p.m. CST, Monday, February 28, 2011

COLUMBIA — A complaint about Taser use that was dismissed by Police Chief Ken Burton will be reconsidered after residents appealed to the Citizens Police Review Board on Wednesday.

In a Jan. 4 letter, Burton said complaints related to a man being shocked with a Taser in Subway on Ninth Street were "unfounded."

On Nov. 16, police officers responded to a call about a man trespassing at the Starbucks near the intersection of Ninth and Elm streets. The man left the Starbucks, and officers found him at Subway, where he was uncooperative, according to a previous Missourian article.

The officers struggled to handcuff the man, and, after warning him, the officers stunned him with a Taser. He was then taken to University Hospital for evaluation, the article stated.

In his letter, Burton stated that when a complaint is unfounded, it has been decided that "acts complained of did not occur or were misconstrued." The letter was written in response to a Dec. 16 complaint filed by eight residents who considered the use of the Taser to be  unreasonable.

Board member James Martin said that by trying to verbally defuse the situation and calling for emergency assistance, the officer on duty did exactly what is outlined in the policy.

“I just don’t know what was left for him to have done,” Martin said.

Board member Betty Wilson said that given the descriptions of the man who was shocked with the Taser, it is worth, at the very least, having an ongoing conversation about police treatment of the mentally ill.

Wilson raised questions about whether signs of mental illness are easily distinguishable from signs of alcohol and substance abuse, as well as inquiries about officer training in these areas.

"I'm not saying I would know how to treat (that situation) differently," she said.

Burton said a substantial number of police officers have undergone Crisis Intervention Training, which helps prepare them for situations such as this one. He said the goal is to have everyone in the department complete this training.  

Burton did note that policy does not say "never Taser" when it comes to the mentally ill and believes that is a misconception many have.

"Sometimes that is the appropriate action," he said.

Despite board member Susan Smith’s motion not to continue the case, the board voted to continue with interviews and to discuss the issue again at its March 9 meeting.

According to a release from Mary Hussmann, one of the complainants in the case, it is anticipated that the board will make a decision at its March 9 meeting as to whether the officers exhibited unprofessional conduct or used excessive force.

The witnesses that will be called during the next meeting will be limited to Justin Clark, the Subway employee who reportedly witnessed the actual incident, as well as the assistant manager on duty.


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Comments

Mark Flakne February 10, 2011 | 6:49 a.m.

The real story from this meeting is the upcoming public hearing regarding the CPD use of SWAT to serve search warrants for non-violent offenses.

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