While Springfield park police mull Tasers, the Sangamon County sheriff’s office has adjusted training after the 2010 death of Patrick Burns, who died following a struggle with taser-wielding deputies.
Park police last month asked the park board about buying Tasers, but Michael Stratton, Springfield Park District executive director, is a hard sell.
“My initial response is, I don’t see a demand or need in park policing for this level of use of force,” Stratton said.
Meanwhile, Burns’ family is suing the sheriff’s office, which says deputies did nothing wrong during the struggle with an irrational man who had cocaine in his system and had attacked a woman after breaking into her home. Jack Campbell, chief deputy in the Sangamon County sheriff’s office, says that training has since been altered, and deputies today are reminded more emphatically that they should use different means if a Taser doesn’t accomplish the mission.
With Burns, deputies deployed Tasers more than 20 times, although sheriff’s officials say they doubt he was shocked that many times. According to a report from the state’s attorney’s office, Burns kept fighting between jolts.
It is difficult to understand how.
When Campbell invited me to take part in Taser training last fall, it seemed a remote event. Sure, why not? Before I knew it, Jan. 26 was here, almost two years to the day that Burns died.
Deputy Travis Dalby, who led the training session, told the class that no use of force has zero risks, which is, presumably, why I had to sign a release-of-liability form that included questions about pre-existing medical conditions. Tasers, Dalby reminded his fellow cops, are not magic wands, and so he told deputies to watch closely as the juice flows.
“If you see no reaction, try something else,” Dalby said. “We’ve got other tools on our belt. We have other options.”
Dalby talked a bit about ARD – arrest-related death – then we watched a video of someone getting Tased. Up against the patrol car, the guy looked like a giant with his hands balled into fists, each the size of a cantaloupe, which he wasn’t putting behind his back despite orders. His tough-guy attitude vanished instantly after a zap that provoked ear-splitting howls.
“I’m sorry, I’ll do anything you want,” he said as the cuffs went on. “I’m 340 pounds, I can handle myself, but that hurt. I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed, and that hurt.”
After a trip to the bathroom – I was warned that Tasing can get messy otherwise – it was my turn.
Campbell had gone before me and remained silent, and I was determined to do the same. And I succeeded – for about two seconds. I shrieked like a newborn for the next three.
Tasers are considered non-lethal, but while you are being Tased, you wish that you were dead. It doesn’t just hurt, it really, really, really hurts. More than you can possibly imagine, from your jaw to your toes, so much that you kick the ground uncontrollably after you’ve collapsed as every molecule in your body screams WTF, wondering why you are suffering through a root canal, compound fracture and third-degree burn all while passing a kidney stone. Only an idiot would volunteer for something like this.
It would be nice to say that it was over as quickly as it began, but five seconds can last an awfully long time. Once 50,000 volts become zero, however, there is only a bit of discomfort as the darts are plucked from your back while a deputy asks if you’d be up for a fight now, which is the essential, and existential, beauty of the Taser: You can choose to be Tased or not be Tased, and Hamlet wouldn’t have any trouble making this decision.
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.