DEATHS BY STUN-GUNS ON THE RISE
By Jon Christian Ryter
April 26, 2006
If you are 50-ish, have some minor heart problems, and are prone to get mouthy at your neighbors or the bartender at your favorite local pub, you might want to think twice about moving to Florida—the haven of the elderly. Florida cops have a new toy they use for crowd control—its called a stun gun, and it packs a 50,000 volt wallop. When they use it, the stun gun can incapacitate a suspect in seconds and leave him squirming and screaming for 30 seconds or more with a sustained burst.
If police are forced to engage in a foot chase, the odds of the suspect being dropped by a blast from a stun gun increases in direct proportion to the shortness of breath experienced by the officer at the end of the foot race. Generally, it won't be an old duffer leading the boys-in-blue over field and dale. It'll be a young buck with more lung capacity than the slightly overweight cop who graduated from the Mr. Donut Police Academy and does most of his racing in a black-and-white.
And even though companies that make stun guns issue very clear instructions that their product should never be used on children or the elderly, Florida leads the nation in the use of the stun gun. The oldest victim to date? Ninety-five. The youngest? A 6-year old boy. The most recent? Fifty-six year old Emily Marie Delafield of Green Cove Springs, Florida died on April 24 when police, who were called to settle a family spat, used a stun gun to subdue her.
Delafield, who is wheelchair-bound, was holding a hammer and also purportedly menaced police with a knife. Because she would not put down the weapons, the police subdued her with a stun gun. Delafield lost consciousness and was rushed to Orange Park Medical Center where she was pronounced dead. The Florida State Police are investigating the death. The two officers (who should have known better than to use a stun gun on an infirmed person), were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
In 2004 the Douglas County (Kansas) Sheriff's Department bought ten stun guns. On Wednesday, April 19, 2006 Sheriff Ken McGovern notified the public through a local newspaper announcement, that his deputies would start carrying the controversial electro-muscular disruption weapons—almost two years after the county bought the weapons.
Before turning his deputies loose with their new toy, McGovern published the ground rules that could come back to haunt Douglas County and the city of Lawrence, Kansas if the deputies abused the prescribed "stun gun prerogatives." Using manufacturer guidelines, the deputies will not be allowed to use the stun guns on noticeably pregnant women—unless deadly force is the only other option. They can't use them to wake up drunks, or to punish people they've had to chase. Nor will they we allowed to use them on people who are handcuffed, those who are too old--or too young; or those who are physically disabled. If Green Cove Springs, Florida police used those guidelines, Delafield would still be alive. Instead, the family that was arguing with her will now be arguing among themselves about how much to sue for.
While some Internet "newspapers" report that upwards of 90 people have died as a result of electro-muscular disruption since 2001, in reality, as the Palm Beach (Florida) Post reported, only 70 people in the United States and Canada--61 of them in the United States--have died from positional asphyxia - which critics of the stun gun atrribute to the use of that type of weapon. Industry public relations spinmeisters claim that only 42 people who were shot with stun guns died—and that illegal drugs were a factor in 22 cases. Only five of those suspects had brandished weapons of any type at the officers who shot them with a stun gun.
When 48-year old Horace Owen broke into the Fort Lauderdale-area West Park home of Macarthur Hodges on June 12, 2005 screaming that someone was trying to kill him, Hodges called the Broward County Sheriff's Department—to get the intruder out of his house. Deputies shot the hysterical man, who was high on cocaine, with a stun gun. Owen went into cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead an hour later at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. The coroner ruled his death was the result of a cocaine overdose. Critics claim he suffered a heart attack triggered by the stun gun when the electrical charge affected his heart rhythm. His crime? Doing drugs. While the coroner insisted the death was not related to the stun gun, its clear he would have still been alive the next day had he not encountered electro-muscular disruption the night before.
The Associated Press reported that forty-seven year old James Borden was arrested because Monroe County, Indiana sheriff's deputies found him wandering around in a drug stupor. At the county lockup, Borden resisted efforts to strip search him. The jailer shot Borden several times in the buttocks with a stun gun. In his own defense, the jailer said: "I asked Borden to lift up his foot to remove the shorts, but he was being combative and refused. I dry-stunned Borden in the lower abdominal area. We got Borden into the booking area. [He] was still combative and uncooperative. I dried [sic] stunned Borden in the buttocks area" After the final shock, the jailer "...noticed that Borden was no longer responsive and his face was discolored." [Excerpt from officerŐs statement on James Borden.]
The coroner who performed the autopsy on Borden listed three causes of death. He said Borden died of a heart attack due to an enlarged heart; that he was suffering from pharmacological intoxication—and that his death resulted from electrical shock. The jailer was been charged with two counts of felony battery, including battery while armed with a deadly weapon. He could spend the next 16 years in the Indiana State penal system.
Fort Myers, Florida police were called to the Ruth Cooper Center for Behavioral Health Care on Oct. 15, 2005. The Associated Press reported that hospital personnel were struggling with 45-year old Steven Cunningham in the parking lot. Police answering the call stunned Cunningham. The former Tennessee man collapsed and later died at a Fort Myers hospital. It's unclear what caused the argument in the parking lot, but none of the hospital personnel believed it deserved a death sentence.
In June, 2005 William Lomax, 26—who was reportedly high on PCP—got into a scuffle with private security officers at a Las Vegas apartment complex. The police officer responding to the call for help by the security officers shot Lomax seven times with a stun gun. Several of the bursts happened after Lomax was handcuffed. The doctor who examined the corpse, the Associated Press reported, said the multiple bursts of the stun gun prevented Lomax from being able to breathe, and ultimately caused cardiac arrest.
Eddie Alvarado died in 2002 after being shot with a stun gun 5 times by a Los Angeles police officer. In a special report on the death, company officials claimed that Alvarado died because he had taken a mixture of cocaine and methamphetamine. Their report noted that the electrical shock complicated the problem. However, Yulai Wong, the Los Angeles County Deputy Medical Examiner, said electrical shock could not be ruled out as the cause of death since Alvarado died from a heart attack.
Gordon Jones was shot with a stun gun 11 times in Orange County, Florida in 2002. He went into cardiac arrest and died. William Anderson, the Deputy Medical Examiner (who is now a private forensic consultant) reported that electro-muscular disruption and cocaine caused his death. "We were looking at positional asphyxia," he said. (Positional asphyxia refers to suffocation after being restrained.) Anderson admitted that the stun gun hits very likely made it hard for Jones to breathe. Nine months after Anderson filed his report, country officials requested a second opinion. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a pathologists and lawyer with a national reputation concluded that Jones died from a cocaine overdose. And even though Jones was stunned 11 times, Wecht said it did not contribute to his death. Anderson still insists it did.
Currently about 38% of all police forces use stun guns. Last year, stun guns were used against people about 70 thousand times. Only about 40 people died. If you listen to the police agencies that use stun guns, they will assure you that they are used only on the most violent offenders, or those who threatened the law enforcement officers dispatched to apprehend them. However, the newspaper reports don't exactly agree with the rhetoric coming from 5 thousand agencies in 49 States or from the 135 thousand police officers who carry them.
The youngest person stunned was a 6-year old boy in Miami who was threatening to cut himself with a piece of glass. Police subdued him with a stun gun. In another Florida incident, a police officer chased down a 12-year old girl who was skipping school. To teach her a lesson, the officer who chased her down in a foot face,subdued her with a stun gun. So far this year, police officers have used a stun gun on high school students in Prattville, Wisconsin and Madison, Wisconsin. None of these examples were violent offenders or hardened criminals who posed a physical threat to the police.
The Portland, Oregon Williamette Weekly reported that Oregon police use stun guns on people for non-violent offenses such as littering, jaywalking or the failure to obey officers. In May, 2004 the Denver Post did an investigative report on the Denver Police Department's use of the stun gun to gain compliance from the citizens of Denver—not to avoid violence. The expose indicated that it was not uncommon for Denver Police to use the stun gun on handcuffed suspects who simply did not respond to theri commands fast enough.
In Rock Hill, South Carolina a police officer used a stun gun to subdue a 75-year old woman who became distraught when asked to leave a nursing home because she couldn't find the room of a sick friend.
In April, 2005 a Minnesota man died after local police shot him with a stun gun because he refused to stop shouting in the middle of a street. That same month a Georgia man died after receiving 3 jolts from a stun gun in a Houston County jail building because he refused to pay a $700 fine. And, that same month in Rockville, Maryland, a man died after being shocked twice with a stun gun. Police were trying to arrest him on assault charges.
Victoria Goodwin was stunned in Boynton Beach, Florida on Aug. 6, 2004 for going 52-mph in a 35-mph zone. Goodwin had just dropped her daughter off at daycare and was heading to her mother's house. She breezed past a yellow Mustang driven by an undercover traffic cop, Rich McNevin, who pulled her over. Things would get worse quickly, and within five minutes, the young mother would be squirming on the ground like somehow having a seizure, whimpering, "Oh, my God, oh, my God."
Goodwin was one of those "violent" suspects. She was driving with a suspended license and did not get our of her Isuzu Rodeo fast enough when McNevin ordered to put up her cell phone and get out of her car. Another officer tried to grab the cell phone out of her hand. At that point, McNevin said in his report, she tried to slap the other officer and he used the stun gun on her.
When Antonio Wheeler was arrested on March 9, 2005 in Orlando, Florida on drug charges, he was asked to take a urine test because he admitted to have ingested cocaine. Once at the hospital, Wheeler refused to submit to the urine test. Without a court order from a judge authorizing the forced extraction of urine, police officers ordered Wheeler to handcuffed to the hospital bed and secured with leather straps to keep him motionless. Wheeler continued to thrash his body making it impossible for nurses to insert a catheter to get the sample. A police officer climbed on Wheeler's chest and shot him twice with a stun gun.
On October 11, Robert Martinez, a 16-year old Hialeah, Florida youth was stunned by police 7 to 10 times outside a Wendy's. Martinez was one of a group of rowdy teenagers who went to Wendy's after a football game and were asked to leave the restaurant. The police were called. According to the police who tasered him, Martinez was kicking and punching police officers sent to clear the Wendy's parking lot. According to Martinez's friends, Robert was a quiet, soft-spoken person who was not causing a problem.
A 1999 US Department of Justice study on electro-muscular disruption devises found that using stun guns might cause cardiac arrest in people with heart conditions. Every stun gun manufacturer posts guildelines that advise police not to use stun gusn on the young, the aged, women who are pregnant, or those who are disabled. At times police officers in the field disregard those guidelines and stun the very young or the very old—and, every now and then, with tragic consequences. Although they should not be, stun guns are sometimes used to stop people who ran and forced the police to chase them. They are sometimes used on people who did nothing more serious than curse at the police officer, spit at them or be verbally abusive. Stun guns are regularly used on people who refuse to put their hands behind them to be handcuffed; or people who are already handcuffed who refuse to get into the transport vehicle that will take them to jail. Stun guns, Amnesty International reported, are being used in situations that guns, batons, pepper spray would never be used. Stun guns—as deadly as they are—are being used as corporal punishment because kidney punching handcuffed suspects is no longer tolerated.
guns are a dangerous weapon—particularly when placed in the hands of
an angry cop who just chased a smart aleck kid ten blocks and feels
like someone just stuck their fist down his throat and ripped out his
lungs. Police argue that the stun guns are safe because fewer suspects
are shot with guns. In Phoenix, police report that a year after issuing
stun guns to their patrol officers, police shootings dropped 54%. Scary,
isn't it? Give the police something just a little less lethal—but every
bit as painful—and they will kill fewer citizens. Sure glad I don't
live in Phoenix.
© 2006 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights
[Read Jon Ryter's book "Whatever Happened to America?"]
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.