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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Utah citizen review panel asks law enforcement to halt Taser use

June 24, 2009
By Melinda Rogers, The Salt Lake Tribune

A citizen review panel in southern Utah's Washington County is asking law enforcement agencies to stop using Tasers until an investigation into the death of 32-year-old Brian Cardall -- who was shocked twice with a Taser on a highway earlier this month --is completed.

The St.George Citizens Review Panel includes a former Nevada corrections officer, a former Los Angeles police officer and a St.George attorney among its members. The group contacted the Hurricane Police Department last week to ask Police Chief Lynn Excell to put a "temporary moratorium on Taser use," said Ronald Smith and Antonio Calderon, who are members of the panel.

Excell told Smith he won't ban Taser use as the Washington County Critical Incident Task Force continues to investigate events leading up to Cardall's death on June 9, Smith said Wednesday.

But that's not stopping the citizen review panel, which is considering legal action against the Hurricane Police Department and may ask for a temporary injunction from the court to keep Tasers from officers until the county's investigation is complete.

"We want to avert another tragedy," said Calderon, a former corrections officer, in a Wednesday interview.

"Here was this 32-year-old man who was unarmed and completely naked. And he was subdued with a Taser. We're wondering if the Tasers are defective, we're wondering if people with mental health issues act adversely to Tasers," he said.

Excell, who was at the scene when a Taser was deployed on Cardall, did not return a message seeking comment on Wednesday.

Smith said he worries Hurricane police officers aren't properly trained on when and how to use Tasers.

The Hurricane Police Department has not yet received the crisis intervention training the state's mental health advocacy organization sees as critical, according to Sherri Wittwer, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Utah.

Modeled after a Memphis program, the Utah training is run by the Salt Lake City Police Department. If Hurricane police had received mental health training, the outcome of the Cardall case might have been different, Smith said.

"I want to make sure that the (Hurricane) police department isn't responsible for anybody else's death. Why not find out if something is wrong with these Tasers before they are used again? I don't think that is an unreasonable request," he said.

Hurricane police officer Ken Thompson twice deployed a Taser on Cardall on the side of a State Road 59 near Hurricane after Cardall's wife called 911 to report her husband behaving erratically while having a bipolar episode.

Cardall was shocked once when he failed to respond to an officers' commands to get down on the ground, according to recently released 911 call recordings of the incident.

Cardall was shocked a second time with a Taser when was already on the ground.

Salt Lake City attorney Peter Stirba, who is representing the Hurricane Police Department during the investigation into the Taser incident, has maintained the officers acted appropriately. The family of Brian Cardall has said a Taser should not have been used in the situation.

Hurricane police have declined to comment as to why the officer chose to use a Taser instead of attempting to subdue Cardall with other methods. Thompson, one of multiple officers on the scene, waited 42 seconds after arriving before he deployed a Taser on a manic and confused Cardall, recordings show.

That move is concerning to Calderon, who said he doesn't understand why police are so quick to use a Taser. The devices weren't around when he worked in corrections from 1993 to 1998.

"Indiscriminate use of Taser guns is a cop out. There should be better training and stricter parameters before the use of a Taser gun is permitted," Calderon said.

Officers responding to the scene were informed by dispatchers that Cardall was bipolar and had taken Seroquel, medicine used to treat manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. Anna Cardall told dispatchers she had given her husband the medicine 15 minutes before calling 911, but the drug usually takes an hour to "kick in," the recording shows.

Brian Cardall was naked and had been trying to direct traffic, the recording shows.

Anna Cardall told a dispatcher that her husband didn't have weapons on him. She stated he hadn't been drinking and wasn't under the influence of drugs, outside of the Seroquel.

Brian Cardall is heard moaning and screaming for about five seconds after Thompson first deploys a Taser on him. Following a two-second pause, Thompson deploys the Taser on Cardall again. He says in the recordings Cardall had tried to get up.

After the Taser was used on Cardall a second time, he quit breathing and had no pulse, officers state on the recording.

Washington County Undersheriff Jake Adams said Wednesday that his agency hasn't been contacted by the citizen review panel with a request to stop using Tasers, but would take such a request "into consideration."

He said the investigation into the Cardall case by the critical incident task force is continuing. The task force is comprised by 12 detectives from the Utah Highway Patrol, St. George Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Office, Ivins Police Department and Washington City Police Department, Adams said.

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