StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112006497410192.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.herald.ns.ca’, ‘A protester is Tasered by riot police in Calgary, Alberta, Canada at the G-8 summit demonstration in June 2002.’);
May 7 was a bad day for the Siergiej (SIR-jay) family of Stockton and not exactly glorious for the Jo Daviess County Sheriffs Department. Repercussions from the events of that night are continuing to grow, and they point up a rapidly escalating controversy across the country.
Jeffrey Siergiej, 23, had been struggling with emotional and mental problems. He had downed a few beers and taken several of his mothers pills, prescribed to combat panic attacks. His family said he was not violent at the time.
Jeffrey decided to get some help because he was in a depressed mental state. He called 911. He said: I called 911 because nobody was listening to me, and I just was tired of life always seeming to be against me.
He told the emergency dispatcher that he was going to jump off a quarry wall and end his life. Why did he do that? I threatened to jump off the rock quarry wall, he said, because I hoped that they would come down to my parents house and talk to me and listen to the situation.
The Rock River Times requested a copy of the police report of this incident but Jo Daviess County Sheriff Steve Allendorf refused to release it, stating that litigation was pending in the case. Neither did Allendorf return several calls from The Rock River Times. The Rock River Times obtained copies of the Jo Daviess and Stockton reports from another source.
Jeffrey said after making two calls to 911 and seeing no response, he went into his back yard for a few minutes to get himself under control.
Deputy Bradley Finn, who was one of the officers sent to the house, said in his report that he was informed by the dispatcher that Jeff sounded very drunk and had threatened to become violent with officers. Siergiej denies that claim.
Finn reported that on arrival, he and Stockton officer Lisa Voling went to the front door of the Siergiej home and knocked. Mitchell Siergiej, Jeffs father, was inside the house. He said no one came to the door and no one knocked. He said that is what he would have expected the officers to do first.
Jeffrey said he rounded a corner of the house and saw something move in the shadows of the carport. He said he started toward the movement when something or someone grabbed his shirt from behind. He said he tried to pull away.
Finns report states that he saw Jeffrey walking south on Curtiss Road toward the Siergiej residence. He said Jeffrey appeared to be very drunk or high on either alcohol or drugs. He approached Jeffrey, he said, and tried to talk to him about the suicide threat. As the reporting officer approached him, Siergiej backed up and began to make furtive movements as if he might try to run away, he reported.
Finn said he put his hand on Siergiejs arm to restrain him, and Siergiej began to strike out at the reporting officer with closed fists and backed away, taking his shirt off in an aggressive manner. Finn said he told Jeffrey to stay where he was and calm down.
His report continued: Once the situation had escalated to a point where the reporting officer feared personal safety for the officers and the safety of Siergiej, the reporting officer utilized his Taser (a stun gun) and was able to properly restrain Siergiej.
Jeffrey said: The next thing I know, I feel fire throughout my body, and I fall to the ground, and my body has a mind of its own. My body felt like it wanted to do the backward fetal position.
He said there was no warning or announcement of police, just a sudden assault by Finn. Someone just grabbed me from behind, and then I was on the ground. After a long time, it stopped, and I realized I could move again, but I didnt move anything except my head and eyes to see what had just attacked me.
In her report, Officer Voling said: Deputy Finn told Jeff numerous times to stop moving and to calm down. Jeff began to yell obscenities and started walking away again. It was at this time that Deputy Finn deployed his Taser in an attempt to subdue Jeff.
Jeffrey said that while he was motionless on the ground, Finn approached and asked: Did you have enough? He then shot Jeff in the neck with the Taser a second time. Finn claimed Jeffrey was out of control.
Keep in mind that these Taser guns fire an electrical charge of 50,000 volts. If a person is struck they fall to the ground paralyzed.
When Jeffreys alarmed parents rushed outside to see what had happened to their son, they were warned to stay back. When they pressed forward to ask for information, both were arrested. A hearing for the family members is set for July 6 in Galena.
The Siergiej family has had several brushes with the Jo Daviess County Sheriffs Department in the last few years. All charges were misdemeanors, and nearly all were dismissed. Jeffrey did plead guilty to a charge of trespassing and paid a fine in 2004. Previous charges against Nancy were dropped, and Mitchell had no charges before May 7. The couple was charged with obstructing an officer and Nancy with resisting an officer as well.
Rockford Police Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro said the policy of the Rockford Police in this kind of situation dictates that the response depends on what is happening. Iasparro said if the individual involved is threatening or likely to harm himself, then the use of force may be indicated, but that decision would be made by a supervisor at the scene.
Anger over the use or abuse of the Taser weapons is rising rapidly across the country. Since 1999, there have been about 120 deaths caused or contributed to by these stun guns, according to a report by the Arizona Republic.
In Miami recently, a delegation of African-Americans stormed out of a County Commission meeting after they took exception to the treatment handed them. They were there to protest Dade Countys policy on the use of Taser guns.
Many protesters expressed fears at the meeting that police were stunning people recklessly, despite safety concerns. Police Director Bobby Parker repeatedly claimed that Tasers are a valuable and non-lethal law enforcement tool.
The Miami Herald reported scrutiny of the police policy intensified after reports that the stun guns had been used on children as young as 6 years old.
In Palm Beach, Fla. Police Chief William Berger recently issued a memo to his officers. It amended that departments policy on Taser use. The memo said in an arrest of a slender 17-year-old, the individual was shot in the chest and abdomen with a stun gun. The memo further stated: About an hour-and-a-half after the arrest, the subject began complaining of chest discomfort and was immediately transported to the emergency room. The emergency room doctor determined the subject suffered a collapsed lung and suggested a possible cause as being a combination of the subjects body build and the Taser use.
Berger then directed his officers to avoid frontal chest shots or center mass on extremely thin or small-structured subjects.
The Houston Chronicle reported a 62-year-old Waco, Texas, man died after being shot four times with a Taser gun. And in Miami-Dade County, according to the Sun-Sentinel, a female officer accidentally Tasered her partner seconds before she fatally shot a suspected car thief. Also, in Ocoee, Fla., according to The Ledger.com, a police officer resigned the day after he was shot with a stun gun while he was involved in a fist fight with two men who had cut off he and his partner on the streets of Ocoee.
Earlier this month, a Fort Lauderdale man died after being shocked with a Taser. The Associated Press said the victim was the seventh person in South Florida to die from a Taser shock since 2002.
The problems are not limited to the U.S., either. In British Columbia in Canada, police have issued a new report that calls for the use of Tasers only in instances where a suspect is attacking or attempting to assault an officer.
According to the Canadian Press, Tasers should not be used on those offering only passive resistance. Taser International, which makes the stun gun, is in Scottsdale, Ariz. The 40-page report was ordered by the police complaints commissioner
after four Taser-related deaths in British Columbia. The report said that while a number of recommendations by Amnesty International were considered in preparing the report, a blanket ban on Tasers was rejected.
A series in the Arizona Republic, dealing with the stun gun controversy, reported Taser was linked to a Department of Defense independent study, which the company cites as proof of the weapons safety and reliability. The guns are used by more than 7,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
The newspapers series also uncovered the fact that the stun gun maker paid a Phoenix councilman $3,500 last year to promote Tasers to the San Francisco Police Department. Arizona law bars such compensation for services provided by a public official.
This series also cited the opinion of an expert that Tasers can cause ventricular fibrillationirregular heartbeathours after a person is shocked with the weapon. Taser denies that claim, saying theres no evidence the weapon causes any heart damage. Medical examiners generally back the claim that it can cause heart damage. According to the articles, Zian Tseng of the University of California-San Francisco said a Taser can affect the heart if it is struck at a vulnerable time.
The city of Mesa, Ariz., paid out $2.2 million in damages to a man who fell out of a tree and injured his head last year after a police officer shot him with a stun gun. Mesa paid another $200,000 to the hospital where the man was treated.
Although there are training courses for these weapons, there do not appear to be standardized sessions for all departments using them. There is no way police can know in advance the medical condition of the person being shot.
I can think of no better way to generate a spate of lawsuits against a city or county than to have under-trained or untrained police using this kind of instrument with little or no supervision. One company makes guns of 625,000 and 775,000 volts power. How would you like an overly aggressive police officer running around with those? County Board members and aldermen should strongly exercise their oversight authority.
From the June 29-July 5, 2005, issue