A campus cop at California State University, Monterey Bay was given a notice of termination this week for refusing to Taser a suicidal student.
The belated action to fire the officer stems from an incident in February described in diametrically opposed fashion by the officer and three members of the Monterey Police Department who responded to it.
The Monterey police say they arrived at the scene and found the unarmed student dangerously belligerent. He was bleeding but not holding the knife and hammer that were in the room. They tried to restrain him, repeatedly Tasering different parts of his body, but the campus cop “froze” and didn’t respond to their appeals for help. “He didn’t know what to do,” Monterey Police Chief Edmundo Rodriguez told the Monterey Herald.
“He was clearly a danger to himself and he was in crisis,” Rodriguez said. “We were trying to keep him from accessing the weapons or leave, to get him medical attention.”
The campus cop has a different recollection. He responded first to the suicide call and talked with the student, who had calmed down. The Monterey police then arrived, were overly aggressive and blew up the situation. He refused to participate in Tasering the student into submission.
“We go through extensive training in crisis prevention intervention,” Statewide University Police Association President Jeff Solomon told the Herald. “This guy had special training and a great demeanor, he really talked [the student] down. . . . This was kind of a no-brainer for us. This is the kind of call we handle every day.”
The campus cop is a 20-year veteran with eight years at the Monterey campus.
Judging by the widespread use of Tasers by police departments across the country, the Monterey police could make a credible argument that they were just abiding by prevailing community standards. But others, who think Tasers are used far too often by poorly trained, militarized police forces, think the standards need to be changed.
More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. deploy Tasers. Although Amnesty International says 540 people have been Tasered to death since 2001, the device is considered to be an alternative to deadly force, like pepper spray. A Taser fires two barbed darts attached to wires into a suspect, or a suicidal student, who then receives 50,000 volts of electricity.
Critics think police have improperly expanded the use of Tasers, relying on it as a convenience to force quick compliance in situations where lethal force is not even a consideration. The convenient method they rely on is torture or the threat of torture. (“Don’t taze me, bro.”)
The campus cop says he will appeal his termination if it is completed and is suing the police department regardless of how it turns out. His attorney, Kathleen Mastagni, said the officer was put on administrative leave in October after complaints about him were put in his personnel file.
The student’s father said, “It defies logic and is extremely disappointing that, at a time when law enforcement is under fire for using more force than necessary, an officer is being terminated for attempting to use civilized methods to resolve a situation.”