00:49

October 23, 2009 at 12:03 am 3 comments

The AP article’s first paragraph says it all — well, almost.

The police officer who used a Taser on a mentally ill man who died as a result of the two high-voltage shocks will not be disciplined and remains on patrol, the Fort Worth police chief said Friday.

Police in Fort Worth were called to the Jacobs’ residence due to a disturbance of some sort. Officers say 24 year old Michael Patrick Jacobs  became “combative”. That’s when Officer Stephanie Phillips saw fit to administer two shocks with a taser, the first of which lasted 49 seconds and was followed by a one second pause and another 5 second burst. Michael died as a direct result of those shocks — in his yard, in front of his family, at the hands of a police officer — with a supposedly non-lethal device. The medical exmainer ruled it a homicide. The police chief’s response?

“This is the second worst thing that could happen to a police officer, right behind dying in the line of duty”.

Happen to a police officer? If we’re weighing tombstones against paychecks this didn’t happen to a police officer, it happened to a 24 year old man and it shouldn’t have. Forty-nine seconds?

An autopsy concluded that the primary cause of death was “sudden death during neuromuscular incapacitation due to application of a conducted energy device,” and said no traces of alcohol or drugs, electrolyte imbalances, or signs of heart or lung disease were found — all of which can be contributing factors in a death.

Police across the nation are using tasers as a dangerous and often heavy handed substitute for reasonable physical restraint or verbal de-escalation. Those things take skill and resemble work and are not nearly punitive enough to reinforce the line between civilian and officer. They say tasers are preferable to reaching for a club — as if death by taser is somehow a better death than a beating. They say it’s a favorable step down from a gun — as if we should, out of gratitude, applaud the use of a device to help curb their natural inclination to shoot us. I’m not saying there is no conceivable use for a taser but they are clearly being used too often, too aggressively and in situations that demonstrate a complete disregard for safety.

Something seems to happen when you introduce a taser into the equation. It seems to somehow act as a filter between the person using it and the person it’s used upon, removing the blame associated with a truly physical act and absolving them of responsibility — assuming, of course, the person using it is a cop. That’s a frightening effect for an instrument to have that’s so ripe for abuse and I’m led to wonder why that is the case.

I don’t want to reduce the death of any person to a talking point but at the same time this has to be talked about. Michael’s death came possibly decades too soon and at the hands of someone sworn to serve and protect him. The fact that once again an officer not only keeps her freedom but her job after killing someone in such a manner shows us how much consideration Fort Worth has for its actions. Unfortunately, it seems to be in keeping with the general social climate in forces across a country that allows officers to kill with impunity. He deserves better. This was not an unfortunate accident or an unpredictable reaction but the very foreseeable result of very excessive force. Officer Phillips violated policy and single handedly killed an unarmed man, and whether the result of intentional harm or carelessness, one person is directly responsible for the death of Michael Patrick Jacobs and will remain on duty without being disciplined. Something tells me that if I held an electric charge to someone for 49 seconds at a time , leading to his death, there would be an entirely different outcome — and rightly, my future would be changed drastically. This is apparently headed to the grand jury where I’m sure we can expect the standard measure of justice to be carried out.

For the record, he was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses but that is intentionally not the focus here. He should not have been spared such treatment because he was “mentally ill” but because he was a human being, nor does his supposed illness excuse the actions (or inaction) of three police officers against an unarmed person.

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A little something for the kids… The Thud Experiment

3 Comments

  • 1. dogkisses  |  October 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Hello,
    I’ve read about this story and I am so sorry for his parents. I am sorry this happened and it you are right, it happened to the young man and the loss of him to his family.
    It is very sad.
    My son has schizophrenia and was Tasered. The officer told me he had used only 50% of the power of the Taser gun. Thank God.
    I have written two entries in my blog, one about when my son was Tasered and the second, more recent, when he again needed help but this time I called the police force first and begged them not to Taser him while they would be taking him to the emergency room! The officer was nice and I feel lucky that he even listened to me but I think attitudes about Tasers and the use of them in psychiatric emergencies needs to drastically change.
    I live in a place that is considered, and I guess is, a very liberal college town and as I said, I feel lucky that the officer listened to me, I was surprised at his seemingly calm casual way of speaking about the possible effects of the Taser gun.
    He remarked on how it would be more likely that a person might die if he or she was on medications, had some sort of toxins in his or her body or had some health problem. I was taken a back!
    Isn’t it also very likely I thought, that a person who might find himself in a position to be Tasered, might likely be a person with some health problems, possible toxins such as street drugs and possibly taking medications?
    I’m glad people are speaking up and writing about this serious issue. Thank you for your blog here.
    I wrote, “Ask for help and you might get Tasered,” on my blog here at WordPress, and the time the police did not use a Taser, I wrote, “Santa Clause and Schizophrenia.”

  • 2. abellve  |  October 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

    I had read your earlier entry but not the latter. It’s beyond unfortunate that we should live in such fear of the people who are supposed to protect us but the fact of the matter is that it’s easy to take someone down from several feet away by pulling a trigger. It’s like a remote control for the human body — and if you have the remote, you’re not getting off of the couch.
    How true that they are being used, more frequently and at great risk, on people in states of acute emotional distress when that group has an increased likelihood of the presence of medication or health problems stemming from psych drugs.
    It’s great that you had the relative luxury of a cop who would listen to you. I think a little more listening would be a great alternative to force in many cases. When the mother of Iman Morales tried to stop the cops from using a taser on her son while he was on a ledge, she was told it was out of her hands since she called them. Apparently you waive your ability to recognize a dangerous situation when you call on NY’s finest.
    I’ll be over to your blog to read “Santa Clause and Schizophrenia” soon. I wish you and your son the best.

    • 3. dogkisses  |  October 28, 2009 at 10:02 am

      I do not know how many different kinds of Taser guns there are but when they used one on my son, well, it did not look like the one in my picture. All I saw was the officer’s hand and he was putting it into my son’s leg. They didn’t ask for back up but then who knows what would have happened if they had. Still, the two officers stood there trying to get my son to put his hands behind his back. My son just stood there. He is strong and the officers couldn’t pull his arms down and the one decided to Taser him. I still remember waiting — just waiting to see what was going to happen. It seemed like it was a long time but I guess it was only seconds.
      I do feel lucky my son is alive. I do feel lucky the officer spoke to me on the phone, yet I remain, I guess, afraid. My son went peacefully when the officer who looked like Santa came, but he was discharged early and isn’t any better. So, I live in fear most of the time. I’ve lived with fear for years now and it is sad that now my fear includes the people who are supposed to help us in an emergency.


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