Wednesday, December 20, 2006


It's a cold December night, almost morning. Calls have already come in: a big man, shirtless and shoeless is walking down the dividing line swinging a club.

The guy is five-foot ten and 260 pounds. The officer who sees him first tries to talk to him from his car and is ignored. Remember "Duty to Act"? If the officer drives away and either the man in the middle of the road is hit by a car or he attacks someone with the club, it's the officer's responsibility. He has to do something.

260 pounds, swinging a club. Facts. Walking in frigid weather shirtless and shoeless; walking down the middle of the road; ignoring officer's attempt to talk. All facts. Altered mental state is the only reasonable conclusion.

What kind of altered mental state? Psychotic? Drugs? IT DOESN'T MATTER. Even if the officer had the time and the resources to find out those are just labels tacked on to a range of behaviors. The officer is there to deal with the behavior. If the guy is super strong or impervious to pain or completely unresponsive to talking it doesn't matter if meth or anger or a hormone imbalance made him that way.

The officer did the right thing. He got out of the car with his taser ready. He put the red dot of the laser sight on the man's chest and ordered him to drop the weapon or he would be tased.

Editorial- there is no greater indicator of an altered mental state than advancing on a drawn weapon. Drugs, psych, mental retardation - in our society you won't find anyone who hasn't watched enough TV to know what a cop and what a weapon is. If you draw a gun (or a taser or whatever, but this piece of advice is for civilians thinking self-defense and most won't be able to afford a Taser) and the threat advances on you, you're probably going to have to use it. Or admit that you weren't prepared to carry it in the first place.

How did the man react when the officer prepared the taser and told him to drop the weapon? He advanced on him, swing the stick. The report said he was "coming at me with the physical actions of attack".

I wasn't going to quote the source directly, but this is too telling to pass up- one of the threats relatives wanted to know "What were 'the physical actions of attack'?" For crying out loud, coming at someone swinging a stick pretty much sums it up. This question reeks- and not just with what I am percieving as some kind of anti-police bias or some kind of blind and unquestioning love for a relative... it reeks with a level of stupidity, willful stupidity that turns my stomach. Of course other 260 pound men coming at you with a club would be dangerous but my 260 pounder coming at you with a club is different. It's really hard not to use profanity to show the level of contempt I'm feeling right now.

So, the officer tased the guy. The guy dropped the stick and went down. But then he got back up. He refused to stay down. He refused to follow verbal orders.

This is rare. Tasers hurt unbelievably. They suck. Even a flatworm will respond to pain. In the officer's experience, it just confirmed what the original presentation of the threat had already indicated: drugs or psych; nearly immune to pain. Very, very dangerous. (Remind me some day to do a post on pain and its limitations with special attention to why an inability to feel pain almost always requires that an injury will happen). In all there were four taser shocks. Other officers arrived. A baton was used- six strikes according to the paper.

No firearms. No deaths.

From the officer's point of view:
Duty to act both for the safety of the subject and others? Check. Double check.
Intent to cause harm? Advanced with a weapon, refused to drop weapon. Check.
Means to cause harm? Very large and armed. Check.
Opportunity? Threat closing into strike range. Check

A 260 pound man with a weapon and demonstrable intent, means and opportunity made him a threat at the ominous level and possibly lethal level. It authorizes impact weapons absolutely and, especially after he shrugged off the taser, could have justified deadly force... but the officer chose to handle it at a level of force below impact weapons. (The taser is all scary and electric, but it is simply a pain compliance tool. It hurts a lot but the only injuries are two pin pricks each a quarter of an inch deep. That's it.)

So, if anything, the officer used less force than he should have.

The article infuriates me.

From putting "threatening" in quotation marks when describing the threat to calling the incident a 'mishap' it is a gut wrenching travesty.

There were two facts unknown to the officer that the reporter considers key: 1)That the threat was only fifteen tender years of age (big deal- how relevant is that at 260 pounds?) and 2) that he was autistic.

Autism, of course, is one of the good and fuzzy/happy mental illnesses. Everyone has seen Rainman, right? And Dustin Hoffman was harmless, right?

Both my kids are autistic, and through them we know many other autistic children. Some of them are dangerous and can't be mainstreamed with other children. The same illness that at certain levels makes it so they do not understand languages or uniforms and won't follow instructions also means that they don't understand that kitties are not for strangling or that it's not okay to bite or that eyes aren't just pretty marbles you can try to pull out and play with.

How relevant is that label, anyway? The officer made the good call- altered mental state. He did the right thing, not only by the book but about as safely as it can be done.... and some pathetic collection of whiny rat-bastards with an agenda ( a news agenda, a family agenda, something) can't see it.

Call us when you want something done about a 260 pound mentally ill person with a club. If you know a better way, don't call us. Do it yourself. And if it's your 260 pound mentally ill person with a club and you want him treated special, maybe you should do something to keep him from wandering the streets at 3 am.


Molly said...

Reminds me of Benny (or was it Lenny?) from "of Mice and Men." Gentle giants can still kill. As sad as this is for the kid and his family, I'd feel bett knowing someone tased him off the street in my neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I have the answer, Maxine, to the problem of half-naked sweaty people behaving "strangely" in public places - a solution to help them, and the police. First, an officer arriving on scene should call for medical assistance to at least stand by. Then, County Roads should be paged out to erect a chain link fence barrier around the immobile or mobile individual. This barrier will need to be padded to prevent the individual from hurting themselves trying to escape. Once containment is affected, a rubberized mat should be slid under the barrier and the subject to prevent him or her from throwing themselves onto the hard ground and hurting themselves. If the subject is known, relatives should be brought to the scene before any action is taken. When they arrive, they will attempt to get at least verbal control of the individual. If they cannot, or wish to abrogate responsibility to the police, forms will be filled out and notarized, witnessed by two lawyers (also required to be present), one representing the police officer and one, skilled in cases dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, representing the client/family. The media will also be called to be present to witness every action after initial contact. No action will be taken by the police, even if other people's lives are in danger, until all elements of the EDP team iare in place. Once a consensus decision has been reached, and all forms have been signed, the police, or other elements of the team designated by consensus decision, will act. If the consensus is that the police are not needed, waivers will be signed, notarized and witnessed by all above parties before police depart. What if the EDP has a firearm? The barrier will include bullet-proof plexiglass and ballistic blankets (preventing shots fired by the EDP from ricocheting back and injuring that person. Once all elements are satisfied, a specially-trained team will enter the enclosure with a net and capture the individual using well-proven, safe animal-capture techniques. After capture, the individual will be medically evaluated on the scene and taken to the nearest hospital, accompanied by family members and the family's lawyer, for treatment. It's easy!

Rory said...

Nice try, Mac, but you just can't make herbivores comfortable with what it atkes to make them safe.

For anyone who isn't local. Maxine is MAXINE BERNSTEIN, the author of the article. I cancelled my subscription to the Oregonian years ago when they chose to devote a huge amount of coverage to the peccadillos of a local skater and pushed a triple murder of some just plain folks to the inside page.

Too bad you can only cancel a subscription once.