City officials are taking a hard look at policies on how Tasers are used, and community members are being encouraged to seek out their neighborhood Special Safety Public Action Committee meetings to share concerns about the weapons.
Police departments around the country have been prompted to revisit their Taser policies after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late last year that a plaintiff in Coronado, Ca., has the right to sue an officer for using excessive force in Tasering a him after he was stopped for not wearing his seat belt in 2005.
In Portland, the public is invited to attend the regularly-scheduled neighborhood safety committee gatherings – which are held all over the city -- as well as the Citizens Review Committee Taser/Less Lethal Force Workgroup, held monthly at City Hall. The next one is Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. in the Auditor's Conference Room on the first floor.
A handful of local cases recently in the news point out the potential for a new spate of lawsuits touched off by law enforcement's overly-permissive Taser policy, which does not require that the subject be actively resisting arrest or posing a threat to the officer, the public or the subject himself.
In December, 21-year-old Daniel Collins -- visiting his family in Portland while on winter break from his college studies in Arizona – was Tasered into unconsciousness by Portland Police while trying to exit a downtown nightclub where a fight had broken out in the bar.
Collins was revived by paramedics who delivered him to the Oregon Health and Sciences University emergency room. Charges against him were dropped; he's now being represented by attorney Emily Simon.
Last week Vancouver resident Jason Elgin won a $30,000 judgment claiming battery against Portland Police Officer Kevin Tully after being Tasered while sleeping at a table in a Denny's restaurant in 2009. An array of misdemeanor charges against him, including resisting arrest and trespassing, were all eventually dropped.
Tully's attorneys Greg and Jason Kafoury have been retained by the family of Kyeron Fair, a 17-year-old high school student taken into Multnomah County Sheriffs custody on alleged gang-related charges last September.
A few days after his arrest, Fair was sent to the OHSU Cardiac Intensive Care Unit without explanation to his family; he suffered a massive psychological breakdown after being revived, and still cannot remember how he ended up in the hospital.
Fair's parents have been left to speculate how their healthy teenager, a football player, ended up comatose in a cardiac unit – however the issue of Taser-related heart attacks has been debated since 2008. No one from the county will comment on the case.
No information has yet been released about who injured Fair and how the teenaged athlete ended up in that ward in a coma, but State Rep. Lew Frederick confirmed last week that two separate investigations have been opened on the case, one by the Oregon State Police and one by the Multnomah County District Attorney's office.
This week an expected bail hearing for Fair was cancelled; his trial on Measure 11 robbery charges is set to start March 1.
Independent Police Review Assistant Director Constantin Severe said the citizen panel has since last year been inviting experts to answer their questions on Taser and less-lethal force from as many jurisdictions as they can find.
That has so far included the City Auditor staff, which prepared a 2010 report concluding Tasers are currently used if a suspect simply shows the intent to resist arrest or police directives – but that a better policy would be to use them against people who are actually resisting commands, showing aggression or who are in danger of harming themselves or others.
In California, Carl Bryan, 21, had reportedly been locked out of his house in his boxer shorts, had through unlucky circumstances been forced to take two inconvenient car trips and had already been cited for speeding that morning by the Highway Patrol before being pulled over a second time for not wearing his seatbelt.
Unarmed, Bryan stood by the side of the road wearing only his boxer shorts and shoes, "yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs" 25 feet away from Coronado Police Officer Brian McPherson, who shot him with an x26 Taser from that distance.
The youth fell face-first on the ground, breaking four teeth, and was arrested in the hospital on charges of resisting arrest and "opposing an officer in the performance of his duties." Judge Kim Wardlaw ruled the officer cannot Taser someone not posing a legitimate threat of harm, finding that Bryan never even spoke to the officer before being Tasered.
Find out when and where your neighborhood Special Safety Public Action Committee meets online at http://www.portlandonline.com/oni/, or call 503-823-4519.
Read the Portland Auditors Report, "Police Taser Use: Incidents generally resolved, but some practices and policies could be improved"
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