Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tased and Confused

The latest incident in the annals of Taser-mania unfurled today right here in my cozy little town of Athens, Ohio.

The background: About ten days ago, a university employee threatened to kill himself by jumping from the fifth-floor balcony of our new, mall-like student center. The Ohio University police sent in their crisis response team and negotiated him down from the brink. I was impressed that the crisis team - cobbled together after the Virginia Tech massacre - actually performed as advertised. Local media gave credit to a Campus Crusade for Christ group who left the chapel to hold vigil outside the building. The students prayed and wrote letters to the man assuring him that they - and God - loved him.
"It was nice the outpouring of support he received," OU police officer John Stabler said, adding that some students had asked for the man's name to pray for him.
(Athens Messenger)
Now, I'm skeptical that any divinity intervened. If a benevolent puppetmaster god exists, would she allow people to get so desperate in the first place? But even in earthly terms, the response was a grand success.

So yesterday, the same man climbs to the top of the city parking garage. (That's the kind of town I live in: we have one public garage.) He again threatens to leap. This time, Athens city police respond.

And do they call in the prayer brigade again? The crisis team that talked him down last time around?

Hell no. They break out the Tasers.
Officers spotted K. with a knife and cell phone by the southeast corner of the garage’s sixth floor, and they later discovered a three-page handwritten suicide note in his car parked on College Street, according to the police report. K., who was talking on his cell phone to 911 operators from the top of the garage, said he would jump if officers approached him, according to the police report.

K. paced back and forth about four times between the wall and Officer Roger Deardorff, who had been talking with K., according to the report. That allowed APD Officer Destry Flick to get behind K. and shoot him with his Taser, according to the report.

Flick shot K. with his Taser to “get control of him so he wouldn’t jump,” Chief Mayer said. Flick then gave K. a second burst from his Taser when K. was on the ground and would not show his hands.

(The Post; I redacted the man's name because I don't agree with their editorial decision that the public has a right to know his identity. The rest of the story is full of equally bad ethical calls, including partial publication of his suicide note. I'd prefer to boycott it, but no other source included so much detail on the Tasers.)
Okay, so the guy had a knife. And maybe the police saw no other way to ensure he wouldn't jump. It was dark, the middle of the night. The man was six stories high. I wasn't there. I suppose you could reasonably reserve judgment on the first jolt.

But the second Taser shot? The man was on the cold, hard ground. What are the odds that he could have truly harmed either the officers or himself?

I think it was Chekhov who said if you introduce a Taser into the story in Act I, you have to make sure it's gone off before the curtain falls. Or something like that. And there's a corollary to this law: once a person has been tased, he's no longer a mental health patient but a criminal. So you'd better tase him again. All in the interest of public safety, of course.

This is Taser logic. Even a friendly, progressive, overwhelmingly white Midwestern college town is not exempt.


ThePoliticalCat said...

Words fail me.

Smirking Cat said...

Maybe I missed it, but after the first suicide attempt, why wasn't the man hospitalized? I thought it was mandatory, for evaluation.

Sungold said...

I don't have the inside dope on what happened after his first attempt. I'm guessing he must've been evaluated, but as far as I know, people can't be held as in-patients indefinitely without their consent or a court order.

And I don't want to sound cynical about someone who's obviously in distress, but given that he called 911 from the top of the garage, he may not have intended to follow through with it. Either way, he clearly needs help, not megavolts.