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04-09-09, 09:27 PM #1
Indiana lawsuit stimulates debate on Taser training
Should a sheriff be able to reassign an officer to a different, less desirable position if the officer refuses to undergo a training exercise?What if that training exercise required the officer to receive a shock from a Taser?
And what if that officer had a note from his doctor advising against it?Those are among the provocative questions at the center of a lawsuit filed this week by Ray F. Robert against the Hamilton County Sheriff's
And how those questions are answered depends greatly on whom is being asked.
Robert, who spoke with The Indianapolis Star on Wednesday, said he can't fathom being fired for basically taking his doctor's advice.
"I'd been in law enforcement for more than 31 years, and (when I was terminated), it felt like it was all for nothing," Robert, 54, said. "Just because I can't be Tased doesn't mean I can't do my job."
Robert said two doctors -- including a physician chosen by the Sheriff's Department -- advised him against being Tased. He feared the electrical jolt and ensuing muscle spasms could further injure a damaged vertebra and a metal plate in his back.
"What happens if I become paralyzed? How long is the county going to pay me?" he asked. "What would I be able to do with my life if that happens?"
But Hamilton County Sheriff Doug Carter said other officers, including a 73-year-old employee and another officer with severe back problems, each received a two-second Taser jolt with no ill effects.
"Every single person who underwent the training found value in the exposure," Carter said. "I would never put one of my officers in danger. The vast majority of Taser injuries come from falls, which is why we have the training on a mat with people holding the person (getting Tased)."
Both sides agree that after Robert refused to be shocked in December, the department offered to create a position for him at the Hamilton County Jail.
But Robert's attorney, Daniel Lapointe Kent, called the gesture inadequate."They offered another position with a substantial reduction in the overall compensation package, with not as many benefits," he said. "He would have to work weekends and holidays and no longer have use of a squad car."
After Robert refused the position in the jail, Carter said he had no alternative but to fire him.The issue drew divided reaction Wednesday.
Dalia Hashad, a policy director with human rights watchdog Amnesty International, praised Robert for his refusal and chastised the sheriff's decision.
"It seems they (the Sheriff's Department) lack a strong understanding how dangerous a Taser really is," Hashad said. "Given his medical history and the two doctor's notes, it's obvious he wasn't an appropriate person to be Tased. With that attitude, I'm curious how they're using the weapon on the street. Is there anyone they think shouldn't be Tased?"
Amnesty International is a longtime critic of Taser use. The organization attributes 335 deaths from July 2001 to August 2008 to the device.
But Noblesville Police Lt. Bruce Barnes said that if an officer can't be Tased, it may raise other questions.
"You have to question if someone is fit for duty if they say they can't train for a situation that might occur in real life," said Barnes, whose department is among several in Central Indiana, including Indianapolis police, that require such training. "What happens if you're wrestling with a suspect, and he grabs your Taser (and shoots you)? If you can't perform your duties, you're putting everyone else at risk."
Lapointe Kent said Robert didn't need a Taser because he had other weapons at his disposal, such as a nightstick and his firearm. Carter, however, said Tasers have become integral tools in police officers' nonlethal arsenals.
"The presence of Tasers has quickly de-escalated many violent situations," Carter said. "In five seconds, the situation is brought under control with no injury to the person or the officer. (If you were a suspect,) would you rather be hit in the head with a nightstick or stunned with a Taser with no injuries afterward?"
Tasers temporarily incapacitate suspects by delivering five seconds of 50,000 volts of low-amperage electricity through two barbs shot into the body from up to 21 feet away.Most training programs give officers the choice of being shot with the barbs or receiving a shorter jolt through a pair of alligator clips attached to a pant leg.
Many agencies believe it is imperative for officers to understand what a Taser shock feels like, in part so they will show restraint before using the device.In a written statement, Taser company spokesman Steve Tuttle said fewer than 100 injuries have occurred during more than 625,000 training exposures.
Greenwood Police Chief Joe Pitcher said he has had a couple of officers with heart issues who were cleared by their doctors to be Tased.
"Their doctors told them there was no evidence that it would be harmful, so to go ahead and do it," Pitcher said. The training "gives us a good lesson that if we do have to resort to these instruments, we know how painful they are to the people we have to use them on."
"Tasers are very painful but not lethal," he said. "They are subject to abuse if you are not familiar with how painful they are."
Robert's suit, filed in federal court, alleges his constitutional rights were violated and seeks reinstatement, back wages and punitive damages.
04-09-09, 11:01 PM #2
If he had all those medical issues, then he shouldn't be working the street period. They attempted to reassign him, and he refused. What other choice does the Sheriff have? Personally, this guy sounds like he probably patrolled with Jesus, was retired on duty, and wasn't doing crap anyway. How much you wanna bet that the only thing that comes of this lawsuit is they pay off his retirement and let him go on his merry way. Its guys like him that are the problems with a lot of agencies, IMO. Dead weight dinosaurs who don't know when to give it up.Are you a 3%er? If you aren't, you should be.
04-09-09, 11:39 PM #3
That being said, management should have the right to make assignments. Our union is pretty strong, but there has always been a clause in our contract giving assignment the prerogative of the city.
04-09-09, 11:50 PM #4
04-10-09, 02:47 AM #5
I can see medically retiring him but not firing him.
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04-10-09, 11:03 AM #6
On the other hand, if the court views it strictly as the sheriff's ability to transfer an employee, he's probably screwed. A police administrator can't let everyone decide where they want to work.
04-10-09, 08:19 PM #7
We weren't tasered to get our certification. Watching a video is all the information I need to know that it hurts, same as OC.
BTW, my OC encounter caused cornea burns, which will heal in about 2 months, but what did I really get out of it, other than knowing it hurt and I can do the little things that they made me do while it was in my eyes?
Just like OC, I have no doubt that Tasers are safe 99.9% of the time, but it's obvious to me that the .1% of officers who may have adverse affects probably means that it shouldn't be done to anyone; but if that's a marketing problem for Taser, then at least the few that are at greater risk should be given a pass on something that's of dubious benifit in the first place.
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04-10-09, 08:20 PM #8
Down here, the Sheriff can fire you for what ever reason he wants, give no reason and the deputy has no recourse. If the Sheriff says "take the hit" and the Deputy doesn't, gooby. Years ago, when a new Sheriff got elected in a County in SC, he fired ALL the Deputies and made them reapply. Cpts and Majors, came back at road officers. BTW, I took the hit and I'm older then dirt. Alls it did was ease my arthritis.
Last edited by bayern; 04-10-09 at 08:22 PM. Reason: add comment
04-10-09, 09:07 PM #9
04-10-09, 10:34 PM #10
I'd say the Sheriff has a fairly valid point. It sounds like the guy is a liability. Let me explain.
He has a pre existing injury that TWO doctors feel may be re aggravated causing paralysis if he is tased.
Fast forward a few days, weeks, months, years, whatever. He and another deputy or two are wrasslin' with a guy, and someone pop's the bad guy with a taser and the wires cross this deputies body. Or the deputy's body is between the spread of the probes. What happens then? He's gonna get his ass tased. I've seen it happen. Suddenly the sheriff has a deputy whose been paralyzed on duty, as a result of a re aggravated pre existing medical condition that the Sheriff had knowledge of.
If he won' accept a position where he doesn't run the risk of getting tased, or at least a lower risk, I can understand letting him go.
But I agree with the poster above, a medical retirement would make more sense.No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends - John 15:13
"The Wicked Flee When No Man Pursueth: But The Righteous Are Bold As A Lion".
We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~The opinions, beliefs, and ideas expressed in this post are mine, and mine alone. They are NOT the opinions, beliefs, ideas, or policies of my Agency, Police Chief, City Council, or any member of my department.
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