Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Winnfield's Taser Policy

The family of Baron Pikes, who died as a result of Tasering by the Winnfield police, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several parties, including the city of Winnfield, Louisiana.

One of the lawsuit's allegations is that Winnfield failed to properly supervise and train its police officers in the use of Tasers.

An article in last week's edition of Winnfield's local newspaper deals with that question, though in a mostly different context. The article is not available online, but it documents poor judgment, a lack of communication among city agencies, and a severe lack of oversight regarding the police's use of a potentially deadly weapon. It's too incredible and too frightening to let disappear into the obscurity of small-town print journalism, so I'm transcribing it below. There's no byline, so I can't make any more precise attribution.

From the Winn Parish Enterprise, August 6, 2008:

City Panel Reviews Taser Policy

Policies and procedures of the Winnfield Police Department regarding the use of tasers were addressed at a public safety committee meeting held Tuesday, July 29.

“We had a meeting at the police station and we went through what the department was proposing when the department first adopted the tasers,” said Herman Castete, city attorney. “This was presented to the city council and the council approved it.

“We’re not following any of the procedures and I want to know why. What has been changed and who authorized the changes?”

Castette also wanted to know if no one authorized the changes how did they get changed.

“The council has never changed anything,” he added.

One of the major questions raised by Castete was the medical part of the taser policy.

“You pull the probes out yourself now,” he said. “The policy and procedure says you can’t do that. This was approved by the council. For this to change, it has to go back before the council to be approved. These council members are the ones that decide what happens within these city limits.”

Adam Cockerham, who is in charge of the tasers at the police department, argued that the policy and procedure are just guidelines and they are not set in stone.

“The chief can change it if he wants to,” he said.

Castete said that the chief can not change the policies and procedures.

“Nothing ever goes by policy procedure in the whole department,” said Cockerham. “Not until something bad happens does anything happen with policy and procedure.”

According to Castete, officers followed the policy and procedure in the beginning and quit somewhere along the way.

Cockerham explained that when MedExpress was in Winnfield their personnel pulled out the probes for the department. When Advanced came in, their personnel will not remove anything from the skin.

“Even if we’re there telling them how to do it, they won’t do it,” said Cockerham. “Every time we taser someone and have to pull the probes out, when the ambulance gets there, that’s when we pull them out. Ambulance personnel looks at them and says they can go to jail.”

Castete advised that the department should have come back to the council and said that the policy needed to change because that wasn’t the way officers were doing it anymore.

“You all didn’t do that,” said Castete. “You just automatically started pulling probes.”

According to Cockerham, the whole thing needs to be changed.

“I have told everyone above me that the ambulance people would not pull them out anymore and that we pull them out on the scene with them there,” said Cockerham. “Even if they’re not on scene, ambulance personnel still look at them before they go to the hospital.”

When asked if the probes are pulled out before or after the ambulance personnel arrive, Cockerham said most of the time it is before.

“You are not following what the council said,” said Castete. “That’s the problem. I don’t know if it’s you, or the chief, or the council, but somebody is falling down in their duties.”

Castete also asked the question of when did it get to be that officers could use the taser for passive noncompliance. No concrete answer was provided by Cockerham or Johnny Ray Carpenter, chief of police.

“You are making the city liable for a lawsuit every time you violate this book,” said Castete. “If you think this thing needs to be changed, then the department needs to come before the council and get it changed.”

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