Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kid killed by taser for shouting 'I want Jesus.'

I am loathe in general to criticize police. I've got a number of good friends who are cops, and for evey case of a 'bad cop' that we hear about or read about in the papers, there are dozens of 'good cops' who are doing a dangerous job for not nearly enough money. And if you haven't been a cop (like I've never been) the old adage of 'don't criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes' is a good one to live by.

However, I was disturbed by a story that I saw today.

There are times when a Taser is needed, and police should always have one around. Clearly it is better to use one than a real gun with real bullets, and there are situations in which there is no choice other than to use force.

But force should always be a last resort, and it is a fact that on occasion the stun gun can prove as lethal as a bullet. Then one has to ask whether it was warranted.

And I know that police have a tough job, a job in which one wrong call can cost them their lives. But it's hard to argue that they were in physical danger in this situation:

police kill shouting teen with taser.

JERSEYVILLE, Illinois (AP) -- A teenager carrying a Bible and shouting "I want Jesus" was shot twice with a police stun gun and later died at a St. Louis hospital, authorities said.

In a statement obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, police in Jerseyville, about 40 miles north of St. Louis, said 17-year-old Roger Holyfield would not acknowledge officers who approached him and he continued yelling, "I want Jesus."

Police tried to calm the teen, but Holyfield became combative, according to the statement. Officers fired the stun gun at him after he ignored their warnings, then fired again when he continued struggling, police said.

Holyfield was flown to St. Louis' Cardinal Glennon Hospital after the confrontation Saturday; he died there Sunday, police said.

What were all those cops afraid of? That he was going to beat them to death with his Bible? What was the crime he was committing? According to the first amendment he has a right to shout. He may have been in violation of a local noise ordinance or something, but if so then weren't there better ways to handle it? Starting with contacting his parents, and if that doesn't work then maybe they might have to physically restrain him but it seems that a number of police officers should have been able to do so without using the taser.

In a report released in March, international human rights group Amnesty International said it had logged at least 156 deaths across the country in the previous five years related to police stun guns.

A few years ago here in Arizona we had a case of a mentally disturbed man who had been sitting in a tree negotiating with police who wanted him to come down. A new police officer arrived on the scene with a taser, unfamiliar with the immediate situation, and shot him. The man fell out of the tree on his head, broke his neck and is now a quadraplegic. What irks me about situations like these is not that a taser was used, but that it was used unnecessarily, with serious consequences.

As I've said, there are times when a taser is a better and more humane alternative to a real gun, but it seems like it is used entirely too often.


Anonymous said...

While I appreciate your outlook, what I think you might be missing is an understanding of physical conflict as it occurs between police and the subjects they have to deal with. Virtually ALL physical conflict carries with it a risk of injury to the subject and the officer. Through the use of the TASER - to which no death has ever been credibly attributed - the physical conflict and therefore risked injury is minimized. Of late a condition called "excited delirium" has been identified and it's often related to / caused by either drug use or mental imbalances. This condition in and of itself is being identified as the cause of death in a number of cases. The sad part is that, because of circumstances, police officers often have to deal with these people before their condition kills them and then it looks like the police involvement contributed to their death. As we educate the public and the police more about this condition, fewer misunderstandings about police use of force will occur.

Anonymous said...

I do not think the boy was delerious. A bystander said that he had asked for his mother. That was a lucid attempt to get help. Evidently, the police didn't call his mother. Just being approached by the police is a threatening situation for a teen who had, I assume, no prior record. If he had one, we would have heard about it by now.

EAPrez said...

I don't buy franks physical confilct risk theory. This kid is dead because of the arrogant attitude I find most cops possess....and as the article states this kid failed to acknowlege them....and because of that he's dead.

Anonymous said...

I am from Jerseyville. I have lived there all my life and have grown up in a cop family. I agree with the fact that taser guns are a better alternative to guns and real bullets although I feel as though there is a lack of willingness on the part of the police officers to instead of physically subduing the kid (and that is what he was a 17 year old 150 pound kid), they only after warning him several times use the taser on him. The boy suffered from bipolar disease. Most likely the cause for his odd behavior. And what most people don't know is that he has had run ins with the police before and his parents had been called to come pick him up on more than one occasion. So the cops knew of his condition, whether the two police officers that are involved knew is to question. And my major beef with the town of Jerseyville's police department is that fact that they say that the polce officers responded by department policy, in my opinion that policy should be looked at closely and maybe revised.

Anonymous said...

Whether we admit it or not, at some point, we ALL want Jesus.

And when our Jesus-want comes unexpectedly and strongly, we may shout it out.

Now what are the police to do, especially when in the throes of a real bad Jesus want, we don't acknowledge them.

They don't know us, they don't know our history, what we might be on, or why we suddenly want Jesus so badly.

So it's only natural for the police to TASER us or shoot us...

especially when we are shouting, "I want Jesus," instead of "I want the police."

So let's not blame the police.

When our behavior is odd or loud, we NEED to be zapped back to normalcy, and into compliance with any law enforcement personnel who may have shown up after we got weird.

I'm glad our cops have TASERS and use them to keep things calm and sensible and normal.

Perhaps we should learn to TASER ourselves whenever we have an "I want Jesus" attack.

Eventually we will learn to say, "I want TASER," (using our quiet 'indoor' voice), and "Thank you Officer, may I have another?"

Anonymous said...

He shouldn't have been doing it in the first place.
Maybe the police were just so sick of seeing Christians babbling on about Jesus that they decided enough is enough?
I know I'd have done worse myself.
If the police hadn't silenced him, he would've ended up causing a religious war in the streets. You know how sensitive people are about their religions.

Anonymous said...

I actually saw the kid running down the street, minutes before the incident. I didn't see a bible, but he did have a cordless house phone in his hand. He was running along the side of the highway shouting "I love Jesus mom, Mom I love Jesus!". The people i was with thought it was some sort of prank or stunt (like something off of "Jackass"), but apparently he was mentally unbalanced. He was under 6 foot tall and of slight build, I think he could've been subdued in a number of other ways.