The Taser: Almost Never a Lethal Weapon
In response to a series of public records requests, the Phoenix Police Department provided New Times with 42 reports from April 2006 in which its officers deployed a Taser stun gun.
A majority of the incidents stemmed from domestic-violence situations involving mentally disturbed men. In fact, all those Tased that month were men, with the oldest being 44 and the youngest being 16. Here are summaries from a representative sample of the 42 cases:
April 26: Phoenix police arrived at the intersection of Deer Valley and Tatum shortly after 23-year-old Joseph Irwin intentionally rammed his van into the rear of a Ford Ranger. The impact seriously injured the driver of the Ranger. Passengers in Irwin's van said he'd been expressing a need to kill his "old" self and to make his van fly. Almost needless to say, alcohol and drugs were involved. At the scene, Irwin grabbed an officer in a bear hug. The officer "drive-stunned" (or cattle-prodded) Irwin with his Taser, but that didn't stop the suspect. One officer created a little distance from Irwin so that the stun gun's probes would properly deploy. As he did so, the Taser wires brushed across one of his hands, shocking the officer. A few of the officer's ribs also were broken in the clash. Irwin finally was subdued. Later, he said the devil had compelled him to try to commit suicide. In February, a judge sentenced Irwin to five years in prison with credit for time already served. The length of that sentence upset the officer who was injured at the scene. He wrote to the judge, "The defendant . . . is a drug addict and a drain on society. He needs to be in prison for the rest of his life."
April 16: Officer Darren Lund was issuing a traffic ticket to a woman on South 11th Avenue and Grand, when a passerby, 32-year-old Samuel Vega, charged at the officer for reasons unknown, a tire iron raised above his head. The driver of the car screamed. Lund drew his Taser instead of his service weapon and told Vega to stop where he was. Vega's attention shifted for a moment to the woman in the car as Lund called for backup. Vega again raised his arm and started toward the officer, who fired his Taser. Both probes stuck in Vega's upper body, and he fell to the ground just as four other cops arrived. Vega continued to struggle for several minutes, even as Lund continued to drive-stun him with the Taser. After finally placing Vega under arrest for aggravated assault, police took him to Phoenix Memorial Hospital, where blood tests revealed large amounts of cocaine and alcohol. He expressed confusion when asked why he'd fought with the cops, saying the "shadows" had been following him and had attacked him. Vega, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who once was deported after serving an earlier, drug-related prison term, is now serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence for aggravated assault.
April 30: Officers Bradley Seyfried and Michael Meelhuysen were on patrol about 7 p.m. near 51st Avenue and Interstate10 when they saw a man in shorts and a tank top standing in the middle of the street. They drove around to the man, Michael Flores, who was repeatedly yelling, "Fuck America! I love God!" When Flores saw the cop car, he added, "Fuck the police, too!" Flores walked over to the police car as the cops got out and told him he was under arrest for disorderly conduct. Flores then suddenly punched Officer Meelhuysen in the face with a closed fist. The cops tackled him to the ground, but Flores continued to hit Meelhuysen in the back with his fists. Suddenly, the officer yelled out, "He's got my gun!" Flores actually didn't have the revolver but had been trying to yank it out of Meelhuysen's holster. Seyfried pulled out his Taser, and drive-stunned Flores for five seconds, while Flores continued to hit the other officer. Seyfried zapped him for five more seconds, after which time Flores said he'd give up. But he didn't, and again tried to grab for Meelhuysen's gun. Finally, the officers rolled Flores over and handcuffed him. Last November, the seriously mentally ill Flores was sentenced to nearly two-and-a-half years in prison.
April 12: Officers James Holmes and Kenneth Perry responded at a residence after getting word about a suspect wielding a steak knife. The cops saw a man holding the arm of a sobbing woman with one hand and a knife in the other. The police knocked on the door, and the woman answered it, saying that her boyfriend, Robert, who suffers from serious mental illness, wanted to kill himself. Robert stood in the kitchen about 10 feet away, holding the knife and appearing angry. He told the cops that he wanted to die. Both officers pulled out their Tasers. Robert put the knife to his right forearm and cut himself, though not too deeply. Perry fired his Taser. One of the probes struck Robert on his shirt, but the other missed. Robert pulled the probe out of his shirt, and started to yell. Both of the officers suspected that he would charge at them, so Perry took out his service revolver. Robert dropped the knife and allowed the police to handcuff him. No charges were filed.
April 1: Two off-duty Phoenix officers at Metrocenter saw a group of youngsters trying to return to the mall at about 9 p.m. after earlier being escorted off the property. Officer Mike Annoual ordered them to leave, which displeased 16-year-old Tambren Ross. Ross removed a backpack from his shoulders, threw it to the ground, balled up his fists, and stepped toward Annoual. The officer grabbed his pepper-spray canister from his belt and sprayed the juvenile once in the face. Ross took two steps back, as upwards of 20 kids started to form a circle around the cops. Annoual told Ross to get to the ground, which the boy ignored. Officer Morrison then yelled out one word "Taser!" and fired his stun gun from about eight feet away. One five-second cycle was enough, as Ross fell to the ground on his stomach and surrendered. Later, the juvenile said he'd been upset with another officer who allegedly had been rude to a cousin of his. The case against Ross was handled in Juvenile Court.
April 7: Despite 51 points from Kobe Bryant, the Phoenix Suns had just beaten the Los Angeles Lakers at the U.S. Airways Center. Officer Thomas Garrett noticed a drunken man in his seat near the railing on the upper concourse. Raul Delgado, all 5 feet, 3 inches and 222 pounds of him, had a tray of nachos, chicken strips and a large beer in front of him, and he just didn't want to leave. The cop said it was time to go, but the 29-year-old wouldn't budge. Garrett reached for him, but Delgado pulled away, threw his food and drink in the air and backed up against a metal railing, four stories above the court. Delgado wouldn't let himself be handcuffed, even after Garrett threatened to drive-stun him with the Taser. The officer then did just that, first in the left rib and then several other times. According to Garrett's report, Delgado emitted a "growl like the Incredible Hulk" every time he was stunned, and said it didn't hurt. He finally allowed himself to be cuffed. Afterward, Delgado told the police "he was going to call [Phoenix police] lab guys and tell them they needed to raise the volts on that thing."
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