Monday, March 22, 2010

Taser Torture of the Week!


BARRE – Some city councilors and a handful of residents Tuesday night
suggested revising a policy that governs the police department's use of
Tasers, and raised questions about a local officer's decision to
repeatedly use his stun gun to subdue a 58-year-old homeless woman who
suffers from a mental illness.

During a lengthy discussion, councilors, who received their first official
briefing on the incident that occurred last Wednesday morning in the
parking lot of the Cumberland Farms on North Main Street, did not shrink
from their decision to authorize the acquisition of Tasers last year.
However, some told Police Chief Timothy Bombardier that the events that
played out last week were not quite what they had in mind when they
approved the purchase and adopted the policy outlining how officers should
use the newly acquired devices.

Some councilors questioned why Cpl. Henry Duhaime chose not to call for
backup before deciding to use his Taser on an arguably defiant, but not
outwardly aggressive woman that he repeatedly asked to leave the parking
lot of the convenience store before placing her under arrest.

According to newly released documents, Sgt. Bob Miller was parked just up
the road on the corner of Second Street. Miller could see Duhaime's marked
SUV, but not Duhaime or Ann Osborn, the woman he was attempting to take
into custody.

According to reports, Miller responded to the scene when he heard Osborn's
screams after having been tased.

Councilor Paul Poirier was among those who questioned what Bombardier
defended as a judgment call by Duhaime.

"If we had a police officer that was having an issue with this woman and
things weren't going well … why didn't the officer ask for backup instead
of using force?" Poirier asked.

Councilor Steven Mackenzie said given "the luxury of seven days of
hindsight" he was inclined to agree, given the fact that by all accounts –
Duhaime's included – Osborn wasn't an immediate threat.

"Nobody knows whether the outcome would have been different or not, it's
just that in my mind the perception of having two officers there in front
of her may have changed the outcome," he said. "It may have changed the
need to use the Taser."

Meanwhile, Councilor Michael Smith relayed concerns from many of his
constituents who perceived Duhaime's decision to use the Taser on Osborn
as "a relatively casual use" of a potentially life-threatening device.

Smith said he had concerns about where Tasers fall on the department's
use-of-force continuum given last week's incident. He said he thought the
council had set a higher standard.

"It was my understanding when we approved the policy that we were much
closer to the higher end," he said. "That was my intent."

In the use-of-force report he filed in the wake of the incident, Duhaime
outlined his repeated attempts to persuade Osborn to leave the property,
explained how she crossed her arms defiantly immediately before he placed
her under arrest for unlawful trespass.

According to Duhaime's report, he asked the woman, whom Bombardier said is
still being treated for mental issues, to put her arms behind her back
twice before warning her she would be Tased if she didn't comply.

Osborn kept her arms crossed, according to the report, prompting Duhaime
to unholster his Taser. As had previously been reported, Osborn responded
by saying: "Give me a thrill." Duhaime then fired the Taser, but claimed
the probes did not penetrate Osborn's jacket and the woman doubled over

According to the report, that's when things escalated.

"… I could see that this was not getting any results so I pulled out the
cartridge and went for a drive stun to Osborn's left thigh," Duhaime wrote
in the report that was presented to the council. "This did have some
affect and she screamed a little bit and went down on her buttocks, in the
shrub area, next to the store at which time the Taser slipped off her

According to Duhaime's account that is when Osborn, who was struggling to
get up, "took a swing" at his knee and missed.

"… Before Osborn could get up I was able to apply a second drive stun to
her right thigh," he wrote. "This again kept her down and she began to
scream. I advised her to roll over and place her hands behind her back,
which she did and the Taser came off her leg losing contact again.

"Now Osborn was still screaming without the Taser being on her, and would
still not put her hands behind her back," he continued. "I again applied
the drive stun to the back of her left thigh. Osborn finally complied, put
her hands behind her back at which time I was able to get the handcuffs on
her and take her into custody."

Bombardier told councilors Duhaime did shout "Taser, Taser, Taser" as
required by the policy and, he believed was appropriately used the weapon
to subdue and "actively resistant" subject.

That said, Bombardier conceded there were some issues that deserved
review. Among them, he said, was the less-than-effective use of the Taser
and a need to consider training in identifying and handling subjects with
mental issues.

"That training will take place," he said. "We're moving forward with it."

Several residents spoke at Tuesday's meeting including one woman – Carlene
Wilder – who defended Duhaime as an "understanding and by the law officer"
and Osborn as a woman who could be confrontational.

Wilder rejected the suggestion by some that Duhaime could have spent more
time trying to coax Osborn off the property.

"The woman (Osborn) had her hands crossed," she said. "How long do we take
before the officers say: 'Is she going to pull a knife a gun or some other
weapon outside of her jacket?"

However, most residents in attendance – including the wife of a newly
elected council member – expressed some concern about the incident and
expressed a desire that the council consider revising the policy.

Robert Chartier said Duhaime could have reached for his radio instead of
his Taser and summoned assistance that might have been helpful.

Edward Stanak agreed, calling on the council to revisit and revise the
Taser policy.

"We need very bright lines to provide guidance to the employees of the
city so they understand them," he said, suggesting it would be "pretty
sound practice" to make summoning a second officer a requirement before
resorting to using a Taser on someone who did not pose an immediate threat.

Meanwhile, Stanak said he was troubled by Bombardier's apparent
willingness to justify the use of Tasers in circumstances the council
never contemplated.

"There's a tradition in this country that goes back to Henry David Thoreau
and it's called non-violent civil disobedience and it's woven into the
fabric of this country," Stanak said. "I'm more than a little bit
concerned now that there's a perspective that it … might have been okay to
users Tasers in Selma, Alabama because those people (civil rights
activists) weren't 'passively resistant.'"

Stanak asked for that aspect of the policy to be clarified given comments
made by Bombardier.

Hannah Etli, whose husband, Domenic, was just elected to the council and
openly disagreed with her, questioned Duhaime's use of the Taser during an
incident that, according to Bombardier lasted about eight minutes

"We're escalating a situation in the matter of 10 minutes, I don't think
that's acceptable for the City of Barre," Etli said. "I don't think this
was used appropriately."

Etli said it was also "worth questioning" why Duhaime is the only officer
to have fired his Tasers since officers started carrying them last August.

Bombardier defended Duhaime, reiterating his belief that his actions did
not violate the policy, or injure Osborn.

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