In late July, Judd Golden, chair of the Boulder branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote a letter to the Boulder Police Department complaining about the July 19 tasering of what he described as "an unarmed and apparently mentally impaired man." He shared this missive with local media -- so it's only natural that Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner has returned the favor, copying the press on a reply to Golden in which he says an administrative review did not uncover "reason to believe excessive force was used or that our policy on use of the Taser was violated."
To peruse the evidence Beckner's assembled to support his viewpoint, check out the letter below.
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BOULDER POLICE DEPARTMENT Mark R. Beckner Chief of Police
Dear Mr. Golden:
In response to your letter dated July 30, 2009, we have completed an administrative review into the Taser incident of July 19, 2009, to determine if grounds existed to believe that any policies were violated as alleged in your letter. Based on the totality of information obtained, witness statements, and evidence of where the Taser probes contacted the suspect, we do not find reason to believe excessive force was used or that our policy on use of the Taser was violated. The synopsis of our findings is as follows:
1. Prior to the officer's arrival, the suspect had unlawfully entered someone's house. This was the original reason for officers responding to the area.
2. According to multiple victims/witnesses, the suspect was displaying threatening behavior toward them, including calling them vulgar names and following them. At least one person was afraid of being harmed because the suspect appeared to be unstable.
3. Upon the officer's arrival, she approached the suspect and noted that he appeared tense (confirmed by another witness) and had his hands closed. Not knowing his intentions, she ordered him to open his hands. When he refused, she pointed her Taser at him and again ordered him to open his hands. At this point he complied. The officer then told the suspect to sit down on the curb. The suspect refused to comply.
4. The officer then approached the suspect and grabbed his left arm in an attempt to get him to sit down for officer safety reasons. He reacted by tensing up and pulling away from her. The officer was unable to control him in this manner, so she released her grip.
5. At this point, the officer again pulled out her Taser to order the suspect to comply with her orders as her verbal commands were not working. The suspect was walking backwards as she continued to give verbal orders. About this same time, she realized that her packset battery was dead and not working. The officer describes the suspect as assuming a fighting stance and it was at this time she deployed her Taser, causing the suspect to stumble backwards. She soon realized only one probe became embedded, making the Taser ineffective.
6. The officer then attached a new cartridge to her Taser as the suspect continued to scream at her and again assumed what she describes as a fighting stance (fists closed and in front). The officer states that not only was she fearful of him assaulting her, but of where he may go and what he may do if she let him go. The officer then deployed the Taser a second time as he was facing her in a fighting stance. This time the Taser worked and the suspect dropped to the ground. The officer maintained her distance until a cover officer arrived and assisted with getting the suspect on the ground.
7. One female adult witness (the one you provided) did state that she saw the officer deploy the Taser into the suspect's back while he was facing away and walking away from her. She says the suspect then stumbled forward and to the ground.
8. A second male adult witness described the suspect as very tense and refusing to obey the officer's orders. This witness did not see the original physical contact between the officer and suspect, but did see the officer deploy the Taser two times. He believed the officer fired both times in the back of the suspect as he was slowly running from her. He believed the first Taser deployment hit the suspect in the right arm. When questioned further, this witness said he was not sure which way the suspect was facing, but knew the probe hit the suspect in the right arm. He also was not sure whether he had a better view of the first or second Taser use and admitted that he was distracted because his attention was divided between keeping the children safe and trying to observe what was happening.
9. A third witness, a 16-year-old male, stated that he followed the officer to see what was happening. He described the suspect's hands as closed or clenched as the officer approached. This witness also confirms that the suspect was not following the officer's orders to sit down. He also observed the physical attempt by the officer to get the suspect to sit down, describing it as the officer attempting to trip the suspect to get him to sit down. The suspect then began running down the street and the officer chased him. He did not see the initial Taser being deployed due to some foliage, but moved closer and then saw the suspect standing and facing the officer with a probe in his left bicep. He was yelling at the officer. The officer then deployed the Taser a second time while the suspect was still facing her. He believes one of the probes again struck the suspect near the same location on his left arm.
10. We interviewed the two Pridemark ambulance employees who responded and provided aid to the suspect. Both employees recalled probes embedded on the front side of the suspect. One probe was in the front upper left arm area and the other probe was in the left cheek (face) of the suspect. Neither employee could recall any probes in the suspect's back, and a review of the ambulance report confirmed their recollection. This also matches the officer's report as to where the probes contacted the suspect.
Based on all of the information and evidence available, we do not believe the evidence supports the witness account that the Taser was deployed into the back of the suspect. Furthermore, based on the actions of the suspect, both the attempts by the officer to gain compliance prior to deploying the Taser and the use of the Taser itself fall well within our policy guidelines.
Finally, an initial review of our policy as compared to the policies of other like departments has found that we are in line with those of other departments. Most department policies allow the use of a Taser in circumstances similar to those described in the above incident. However, we are continuing to review our policy to insure that it meets contemporary standards while providing reasonable protection for our officers and community members.
I would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention. It was appropriate to conduct an administrative review of this incident, especially given the various accounts of exactly what happened. Through these types of reviews we can continue to learn and adjust our practices and policies as necessary.
Finally, since you chose to notify the media about your concerns, I will be sending a copy of our response to the media as well. I wanted to provide you the courtesy of providing advance notice of my intent.
Mark R. Beckner
Chief of Police