Monday, May 20, 2013

Tased and confused

Oh, the ubiquitous taser. A nonlethal alternative to the trusty sidearm.

Except that isn't the way it turned out. As Scott Greenfield reminds us, the first rule of policing is to make it home for dinner alive. That rule trumps all others for those who wear a badge.

The vast majority of officers never fire their weapons except at the gun range. And that's the way it should be. Deadly force should be the ultimate last resort - because if you're wrong, there's no going back.

And what that means is instead of slowly escalating the use of force, in order to make sure they make it home for dinner, officers start with the taser instead of using it as the last best alternative to deadly force.

Up in Fort Worth, Texas, police executed a "no-knock" warrant on a house suspected to contain the bones of a cocaine distribution operation. The warrant was signed at 3:35 pm on Thursday. When they arrived, the police kicked in the unlocked front door and shortly thereafter had Jermaine Darden face-down on the floor.

Mr. Darden weighed over 300 pounds and was asthmatic. While laying on his stomach, Mr. Darden began to have a hard time breathing. He tried to roll over to his side to make it easier to breathe.

The police, accustomed to folks asking how high when commanded to jump, never thought that a heavy man with a breathing problem might be in a dangerous position on his stomach. Instead of viewing Mr. Darden's actions as an attempt to breathe, they determined he was resisting arrest. Instead of listening to the other people in the house who knew Mr. Darden's problems, they made the decision to show Mr. Darden that he wasn't to do anything without their permission.

So, despite the fact that the officers outnumbered the people in the house, and despite the fact that the officers had the ability to use deadly force, they tased Mr. Darden.

And, at 5:06 pm that afternoon, Mr. Darden was prounouced dead in the emergency room at John Peter Smith Hospital.

Now it was time to concoct a story to explain how something could go so wrong. Mr. Darden had to be tased. He was resisting arrest. The officers' safety was endangered. They only had one choice - either they could tase Mr. Darden or they could shoot him at point blank range. Knowing that not even the most naive person would believe that was warranted, they pulled out the taser.

Let's face it. Mr. Darden was a bad guy. He was in a house that served as the distribution center for a coke operation. Who you gonna believe in that scenario? The police who were shutting down a drug operation or a dope dealer?

And that's exactly what they expect you to do.

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