Taser Nation: Part 1

Taser Nation: Part 1

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioA video of a tasing on YouTube is calling some of the state's Taser policies into question. Would the situation have been different if a different agency pulled over the driver?

More than 1.3 million people have seen a version of the now-famous tasing video on YouTube.com. In it, a non-compliant, but non-confrontational Jared Massey refuses to follow the orders of UHP Trooper John Gardner.

Taser Nation: Part 1

Jared Massey said, "Out of the corner of my eye I catch that he's pulled a gun on me."

Dozens of Utah police agencies use Tasers, and all of them have different policies.

State Sen. Scott McCoy says, "In terms of where that is set, it's definitely an agency-by-agency determination at this point."

Sometime with deadly results. Amnesty International reports more than 270 people have died in the U.S. since 2001 after a Taser was first used.

UHP won't comment on Massey's case while it's being investigated, but it can say there doesn't have to be a fight before a Taser comes out.

Trooper Cameron Roden says, "Even if the person is not being confrontational to the point of a fight at that time, he (the officer) has got to realize if it's going to go that way. The result may be that the Taser may be the better option."

Roden says policy allows Taser use if the situation meets one of three criteria: when a suspect is threatening to physically harm someone, the use of physical force would cause an injury, or if lesser means haven't reduced the threat. Roden says even someone just walking away can be dangerous.

Roden says, "We've had people who have been non-compliant and have gone back to their cars and come back and shot the officer or even killed the officers."

However, if Jared Massey had been pulled over by other police agencies instead of the UHP, the outcome might have been very different.

Draper police policy states Tasers "may be deployed when physical force is necessary and justified to prevent the possibility of injury to the officer or another person."

Salt Lake City Police Detective Jared Wihongi refuses to comment specifically on the Massey case. He says the city's policy generally authorizes Tasers when the subject is violently resisting or fleeing. Wihongi says officers don't usually use a Taser if a non-combative person is simply not obeying orders.

He says, "Certified personnel may use a CED as an intermediate for situations when a dangerous or violent subject aggressively resist or attempts to flee."

I ask him, "If it's kind of wrapped up in that policy where a dangerous or aggressive person fights or tries to flee, say, for example, if I'm just kind of sitting there and not doing what you tell me to do, if I'm not fighting you and I don't appear to be dangerous, can you use that Taser in that case?"

Wihongi says, "For the Salt Lake City Police Department, every situation has a… unfortunately, they're never that black and white, and there's a lot more that may have led up to the situation. I can't say yes or no to a blanket statement to a question like that because what was the history? What led up to this particular incident? If it's just a general traffic stop and I don't know anything about the subject, generally, it would not be used in that situation."

I say, "To recap that policy basically says, ‘dangerous or aggressive.'"

Wihongi replies, "Uh-huh (yes)."

I say, "I think the criteria is if the dangerous person tries to fight you or tries to run away. Am I quoting it right?"

"Aggressively resists or attempts to flee?" says Wihongi.

I say to him, "OK, but if a guy is just sitting, and again, I don't want you to say a blanket generalization from every single case."

"Right," replies Wihongi.

I then ask, "But, if a person, say, is not being perceived as a threat or aggressively trying to fight or escape, then generally, and of course, there are going to be exceptions, but generally."

Wihongi says, "Generally, that wouldn't be the type of incident we would deploy a Taser on an individual."

State Sen. Scott McCoy says, "Two fairly similarly situated persons might be subject to two different standards of treatment by law enforcement."

McCoy is the chairman SLCPD Civilian Review Board. He says, maybe, there should be a uniform policy covering Taser use statewide but acknowledges some concerns.

McCoy says, "But, then you have to ask yourself, ‘Why just Tasers? Why not everything?' Then you get to the point where you could make an argument that you need to have a uniform standard for all manner of things."

Officials say what works in urban areas may not work in remote areas of the state.

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