Posts tagged ‘Taser’

The Kaufman House – Part II

Here are two short videos regarding the Kaufman house, the failures of SRS and an interview with survivor Nancy Jensen. In addition to standing around with our jaws dropped at the  severity of it all — we really need to start asking ourselves how these things can happen and why some people are not being heard, why our agencies aren’t doing what they signed on for and what we can do about it. It’s not enough to be outraged if it doesn’t lead to change.


December 9, 2009 at 11:38 am

The Kaufman House

Some of you may remember hearing of Arlan and Linda Kaufman, the Kansas couple who operated an institution of sexual slavery and abuse under the pretenses of a group home for the mentally ill. For those who are unfamiliar, their abuses were many. Arlan was a social worker and Linda a nurse. They operated an unlicensed group home for twenty years in which their principle methods were sexual abuse and forced labor, no mental health care was offered and the families and Medicare were billed for their services. From USA Today:

Federal prosecutors contended the Kaufmans controlled the lives of mentally ill residents, including deciding who could wear clothes. They were found guilty of forcing residents to masturbate, fondle each other and shave each other’s genitals — activities that Arlan Kaufman videotaped.

and from the Topeka Capitol Journal:

Agents were startled to discover 34 videotapes that captured sights and sounds of the Kaufmans’ approach to addressing mental disease.

Two written summaries of contents of the videotapes…confirm Mr. Kaufman was shown on one tape urging patients to masturbate and urinate in front of other patients. On another tape, Mr. Kaufman instructed patients, male and female, to shave pubic hair of clients of the opposite sex.

The camera caught patients and Mr. Kaufman discussing sexual fetishes and fantasies, the summaries say…According to reports, Mr. Kaufman is shown touching the genitals of male and female clients. A group of patients was filmed hula-hooping in the nude, the summaries say.

According to the reports, a male patient was videotaped while forcing objects up his anus. Mr. Kaufman is captured on tape urging a client to stick a paint brush up his urethra, a summary says. The taping caught a group discussion of sex toys and group massage, during which Mr. Kaufman said, “I’m just going to enjoy watching you.”

The list goes on but it’s virtually impossible to address frankly without appearing to play to the shock value of it all. It is enough to say that for twenty years, these two people engaged in some truly life-destroying behaviors. On top of that, they did it all under the pretense of offering help to people in various states of emotional distress and extremely vulnerable states of mind, often turning their own traumatic events against them. They then intimidated their residents into silence and charged victims’ families and Medicare for the abuses.

The fact that it happened is bad enough, that it continued for so long is beyond understanding. They originally opened the house in 1976 as college housing, later converting it into a treatment residence for those with diagnosed mental illness or emotional problems. One must wonder what sparked the move to a new kind of home. Given the end result, it may not take a whole lot of wondering. You’d be hard pressed to find a collection of people as discredited, unprotected and vulnerable as those regarded as mentally ill in America — the perfect victims, from the position of the Kaufmans. While this is outside of the realm of conceivability for most, it is still largely true that, collectively,  we don’t care what you do to “them” as long as you take them off our hands.

There are, however, agencies in place to keep things like this from happening. So where were they? In 1986, Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) informed the Kaufmans that they were required to become licensed as they were providing “residential services, therapy for the residents [and] medication distribution”, according to the Testimony to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. The Kaufmans chose to sue the SRS. The SRS backed off. Kansas Supreme court upheld the ruling that the Kaufmans were to be licensed but the Kaufmans made no move to do so and the state made no move to make them — so the abuses continued.

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said the record shows SRS bungled opportunities to deal with alleged misconduct by the Kaufmans.

“Those agencies that are designed and given the mission to protect the vulnerable failed,” he said.

SRS Secretary Gary Daniels said the state agency he leads didn’t deserve full blame for a case that “slipped through the cracks.”

“Everyone who was involved,” Daniels said, “at some point or other had some responsibility to jump up and down and yell, ‘Foul!’ “

It wasn’t until a bus full of schoolchildren reported seeing a group of farm workers working outdoors in the nude that an investigation was ordered. The findings were, of course staggering as twenty years is a long time to amass evidence.The Kaufmans were convicted of 30 federal charges including forced labor, involuntary servitude, health care fraud, Medicare fraud and false representation for which Arlan was sentenced to 30 years, which at his age of 69 is essentially a life sentence. Linda was sentenced to just 7 years due to her defense team’s claim that she was as controlled by her husband as anybody, thus making her a victim too. After serving about two thirds of her sentence, district judge Monti Belot saw fit to add to her sentence, upping it to 15 years. From the Associated Press:

Trial testimony had indicated a stun gun was used on a resident’s genitals. Belot found while reconsidering sentencing that it should be considered a dangerous weapon. He also found that a large number of residents were vulnerable victims and added time for obstruction of justice.

“I appreciate being given the opportunity to consider a new and appropriate sentence for defendant,” Belot said Monday.

The Kaufmans’ family objected to the increased sentence in a written statement:

Contrary to public opinion, these convictions arose out of poor judgment, but not malice. It is disappointing that the Judge did not give more weight to that fact. Imprisoning a 66-year-old, non-violent woman for 15 years accomplishes nothing.

I wonder what imprisoning all of those people and abusing them ever accomplished. Prison will surely be a kinder place for the Kaufmans than their house was for all of their victims, falling far short of any kind of measurable justice but that’s the system. We present ourselves as a civilized nation and sometimes that just means people don’t get what they truly deserve.

December 5, 2009 at 11:08 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.

October 23, 2009 at 12:03 am 3 comments

Protect and Serve?

   This isn’t really news as it’s from January, but I just stumbled upon it last week so I thought I’d provide a follow-up to the Iman Morales tragedy. I’m truly at a loss for words but  “disgusted” is a start and the “Fury” in this page’s title is there for a reason.

   A New York Daily News article reports that just five weeks after officer Nicholas Marchesona fatally fired a taser at Iman Morales, he was granted a promotion. That’s right, a promotion. The kind of negligent manslaughter that would land a civilian in court not only fails to put this officer there, not only fails to cost him his job, but ends in a promotion!

   For the eight days prior to the death of Lt Pigott, who gave Marchesona the order, Iman’s dying was regarded as a minor tragedy. After, however it was a mere detail. Praise and promotions are the order of the day apparently. Now the effort is to make the officers look as good as possible. The very same article says that an air mattress was being set up but it took until January for that to become the story. Prior to that, the question was whether one had been ordered and not waited for, or not ordered at all. I guess these are the details that get a little hazy when you kill a member of the disposable class.

August 5, 2009 at 9:53 pm 4 comments

Iman Morales

Iman Morales

On September 24th, 2008 Iman Morales climbed naked out of his apartment window in Brooklyn, NY in a state of distress. He was in the midst of some sort of dispute with his mother. When he tried to get back inside by way of his neighbor’s window, she refused to let him in. The police were called. He climbed down the fire escape and then, upon their arrival, onto the narrow top of a roll-down security gate. His mother pleaded with the police to let her calm her son, but was refused and kept at a distance as the police tried to get Iman down and he became more agitated. He began waving a florescent light bulb at the officers, jabbing at one of them in the chest. At this point, at the order of Lt. Michael Pigott of the Emergency Services Unit, Iman, still standing on that narrow ledge ten feet high, was shot with a taser by officer Nicholas Marchesona. Having made no provisions to catch him or break his fall, several police and a crowd of onlookers watched as Iman’s body became rigid and paralyzed. He fell forward, head first onto the concrete below and died.

   What did they think was going to happen when they shot that charge into his body? Was he going to become calm and climb down smiling? The effects of a taser on the human body leave little to mystery. We know what they do and how the body responds. That’s why they are used. Tasers were only incorporated into more common use in the NYPD to curb their overactive trigger fingers in the first place and the use of the device in this event was in clear violation of department guidelines.This of course begs a few questions–How could one officer give the order to use a taser in this instance, another comply, and still others stand by allowing a man to fall predictably to his death?  Why were no provisions made to ensure a safe landing if they were going to use the device? Why was no one in the gathering crowd willing to tackle a cop to catch a falling man or better yet — to stop the device from being used in the first place? That of course would require them to drop their phones and stop taking pictures and videos.

City Councilman, Peter Vallone – chairman of the Public Safety Committee, of all things – said of the tragedy, “A situation like that is never going to end in a good way. The most important thing is that no innocent bystanders or police got hurt.” 

   In a dark turn to an already dark story, Lt. Pigott, on modified duty without his badge and gun, took his own life shortly after in order to keep his children from seeing him in handcuffs, according to a note he left. Not surprisingly, however,  the department said it was unlikely that he would have faced prosecution. His death then led to the spin machine telling the story of a hero officer who killed himself distraught over a tragic accident, reducing Iman Morales to a side note in a story about the pressures faced by police. I say this, not to diminish the loss of the Pigott family, but to restore a speck of balance to the telling of events.

   Regardless of what happened afterward, the end of Iman’s story is further evidence there is a climate of disregard for human life that needs to be addressed. It can be seen throughout our culture and is nowhere more evident than it is among that third class of people deemed mentally ill. People in power can make all the policy changes they want in the name of public relations, but it matters very little when policy is ignored and even less when policy is a sorry substitute for true moral character and respect for the lives others.


 It is worth noting that prior to that week he had been regarded by all accounts as “gentle and sweet” but was experiencing erratic behavior apparently in response to a new medication and subsequent withdrawal.

July 26, 2009 at 12:19 am 2 comments


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