Wednesday, May 19, 2010
When the Fort Worth City Council voted on Tuesday to accept a $2 million settlement in the Taser related death of Michael Jacobs Jr., they cast down their eyes and droop their heads in painful sorrow of this salt in the wound. They wanted to say as little as possible to stir the winds. She was a City eager to heal and move on.
Yet the City would not concede liability into the young man’s death. Maybe, to do so, would expose her to more similar lawsuits. After all, there have been five taser related deaths in the past five years. For to be culpable in one, infers guilt in the other.
Fort Worth Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks spoke for the City and for the community, declaring now to be the time to begin the healing process.
An exhausted pastor, Kyev Tatum, who has led the mass public awareness campaign which gained national and international attention, sighed with some relief that this part of the battle against tasers was over. Tomorrow, he would take up the matter of the Arlington Police Department and its plan to purchase 300 more stun guns. By no means, for him, was the war over.
Pastor Tatum was drawn into the taser controversy when the Jacobs family called out for help. The Fort Worth Police Department had electrocuted the son of Charlotte and Michael Sr., with a 50,000-volt taser, and nobody was saying anything, not even a word of regret or sympathy. There was no explanation from the police department as to why the officer engaged the weapon for a full 54 seconds upon a young man with mental problems. And, no city leader was willing to condemn the officer without all the facts.
The City was silent and complacent and its populous impervious. Michael Jacobs, Jr. was on his way to becoming just another silent statistic in a string of taser related deaths.
Tatum organized a local chapter of the Southern Leadership Conference (SCLC) and pulled together coalition of other civil rights organizations, including NAACP, LULAC, ACLU, and community activists. The community coalition called for an investigation, and to make the results public.
The medical examiner, upon finding no contributory causes such as drugs or alcohol in Jacobs’ system, declared his death a homicide. But the police department refused to dismiss the officer, and the grand jury refused to indict. There was no recourse except to seek redress by civil suit; otherwise, no one would be accountable for the death of an innocent, mentally challenged young man.
The $2 million settlement is a small penance to pay for a human life, though the largest in city history, but it may pave the way for reconciliation. The Fort Worth Police Department plans to meet with Pastor Tatum and other ministers to “begin the healing process”, and discuss strategies for better policing in the community. There will continue to be disagreement, however, on the usefulness of tasers and their lethality.
There is an axiom here: As the death count rises, the cost of using tasers will go up.
Although the manufacturer of the weapon, TASER International, has been sued over 100 times, it remains largely unscathed. They sell the instruments based upon its claim of non-lethality, and leave municipalities to pay the cost of wrongful deaths.
“Tasers are not only deadly”, Tatum declares. “They are torture.”
Officer Stephanie Phillips did not know that when she continuously engaged the trigger of her taser that 50,000 volts of electricity continued to course through the body of Michael Jacobs Jr., and that she was inadvertently frying him alive, from the inside out. No one ever told her the weapon was lethal. She was never trained to “disengage” the electrodes before electrocuting the subject. Maybe this is why the Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict her. And, she did not violate department policies by using her own discretion to deploy.
Hindsight is 20/20, and many people wish that certain events could be undone. Had the officer known the deadliness of the weapon, she would have ceased engagement. This being the premise, a Star-Telegram editorial emphasized “better training” as a resolution to taser death.
Not so. Teaching an officer how to use discretion in the field, when deploying the weapon, is no guarantee against abuse, nor does it mitigate the fact that the taser itself is an implement of torture. But proving torture, on the other hand, is much harder than proving the cause of death. By its very definition, a torturous act must be one that horrifies the social consciousness of humanity. And yet we, as a nation, have been conditioned into accepting the Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) as non-lethal and harmless.
We discount the fact that they have been used on pregnant women such as Valreca Redden and claimed the life of the 6-month unborn child of Hannah Rogers-Grippi, that they have been used on senior citizens in their 70s and 80s, against the wheel-chair bound and mentally ill, and that the death count in the U.S.A. and Canada now stands at 481.
What is more, there is now mounting evidence that tasers cause serious and permanent injuries. A young victim is tasered over a minor incident, falls flat on his face, unable to catch himself, and breaks out his front teeth. He sues and wins. And, it has been reported, that those who have been tasered and survived, have “never been the same” since, having suffered neurological brain damages.
These are the risks, and no one is without fair warning.
[Post Note- The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice is soliciting "Alternatives to Conducted Energy Less-Lethal Devices", to wit Tasers (R)]
The handwriting is on the wall: The days of tasers are coming to an end.