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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

EDITORIAL: Did Taser shocks kill Fort Worth’s Michael Jacobs?

September 2, 2009
Fort Worth Star Telegram

It’s been more than four months since 24-year-old Michael Jacobs died after a struggle with Fort Worth police. By now, the people of this city should have a better idea than they do about how that happened.

They know that police Cpl. Stephanie A. Phillips shocked Jacobs twice with a Taser on April 18 when he was causing a disturbance at his home on Ava Court Drive. A Taser is a device that fires two small darts connected by thin wires to a hand-held unit. It is designed to deliver an electrical charge powerful enough to cause disabling muscle contractions without being fatal.

They know that an hour after those shocks, Jacobs was declared dead in the emergency room of John Peter Smith Hospital.

They know that Tarrant County Chief Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani last week ruled the death a homicide caused by the Taser shocks.

Not possible, says the maker of the device, Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz. On its Web site, the company presents links to more than four dozen national and international scientific studies to back up its claim.

It is possible, says Peerwani, and it happened.

That’s a very big deal, in many ways.

Jacobs died after Fort Worth police officers tried to calm him down and take him into custody. That is a tragedy for his family and for the city.

The medical examiner has implicated one of those officers, Phillips, in a homicide. That’s devastating to any peace officer dedicated to protecting and defending the residents of any city. It must be assumed that she is so dedicated.

Jacobs’ death has shaken confidence in the Fort Worth Police Department and its new chief, Jeff Halstead. If it can be blamed on improper training, faulty equipment or hazardous acts by an officer, so much the worse.

Finally, if the Taser definitively is linked to a death — notably, this one, in which the medical examiner has said factors such as drug use or other underlying medical conditions were not a factor — it will affect hundreds of other police departments that use Tasers as a step short of deadly force.

Taser use has been controversial in several communities across the nation. Opponents have said the device is more dangerous than the police and the company that produces it admit, and it is used too often.

Peerwani’s autopsy report and ruling do not provide affirmative evidence about how he reached his conclusion that Jacobs’ death was due to the Taser shocks. The report rules out several other possible causes, but the link to the Taser shocks is simply stated without evidence.

Peerwani says that he has "a very large comment" to make about how the Taser caused Jacobs’ death, but he declined to talk about it with a member of the Star-Telegram Editorial Board. He said he has delivered that comment in a separate report to the district attorney’s office, and that report has not been made public.

The district attorney’s office has said that the Jacobs case will be presented to a grand jury.

It is not good enough for the people of Fort Worth that the county’s chief medical examiner will not discuss how he reached his conclusion to connect a police officer to a homicide.

Peerwani has held that job for 30 years. He is highly credible, a well-known person in his field. His evidence and his opinion in this case should be shared with the people of this city, not just the people at the courthouse.

And the people of Fort Worth have waited long enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anyone thinks that electricity going though a human is safe- OMG get real. BUT----Stephanie Phillips is my daughters step mother- I am not saying anything about what happened, nor am I saying what happened is right, I do think that people should know that she has been Officer of the Year for multiple times and this in its self should give her a little credit.
She is the mother of three, as much as I can not stand her, this is something that she never wanted to happen to anyone.