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Monday, May 10, 2010

KILLING THEM SAFELY - Film puts focus on Taser use

May 10, 2010
By Brennan David, Columbia Daily Tribune

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dedicated to telling a story, filmmakers Scott Peifer and Nick Berardini slept in a New York airport one night to make sure they stayed under budget.

It was Day 11 of their travels across the country, and neither was sure of the financial state of their documentary. It’s something they laugh about today, Peifer said, but trying to sleep in the terminal wasn’t funny at the time. At that point, the co-producers of the film had traveled across the country in their effort to document the 2008 Taser-related death of Moberly resident Stanley Harlan, 23, and were not sure how the project would evolve.

“We were getting low on finances because all the investors at that time were not in,” he said. “We needed to suck it up. We knew when people see this, they will realize that these stories don’t feel real. It’s going to blow people away.”

Peifer and Berardini, both University of Missouri graduates, set out last year to create “Killing Them Safely,” a documentary chronicling Harlan’s death after being struck by a Taser deployed by a Moberly police officer in August 2008. Harlan’s mother, Athena Bachtel, and others witnessed his death, which occurred near the family’s home.

Bachtel contends police deployed the Taser while her son was handcuffed and that police refused to administer basic life support when he stopped breathing. Berardini said perhaps the most compelling shot of the film is of the victim handcuffed against the car. Harlan is clearly struggling to breathe, Berardini said.

A special prosecutor later determined Moberly police officers were not criminally liable in Harlan’s death, and his family reached a settlement with the city.

The film crew set out in July to begin interviewing representatives of Taser International, Harlan’s family and other families in similar situations. KOMU videographer Scott Schaefer was brought in to film interviews that took the small crew to New York; Los Angeles; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Winnfield, La. Schaefer, who was contracted to film interviews and had no input in the storytelling process, said he is eagerly awaiting the first cut of the documentary, which could be ready by the end of this month. “I don’t believe there is much narration,” he said. “These people are telling their story. There is a lot of passion on both sides of it.”

The film is being edited in New York because Berardini thought he had too great a film for him to edit himself. The former walk-on MU basketball player and journalism graduate said he at first intended to personally edit the film but realized it might be beyond his skill level. Once the final cut is approved, the film will be released to film festivals, and it could be released as early as this fall.

Berardini is a former KOMU reporter who worked at the scene in Moberly on the morning of Harlan’s death. He said he always thought there was more to the story than was being told.

“We found that there is this inherent trust that you want to believe in law enforcement,” Berardini said. “I am not one of these people that believe law enforcement is out there to get people because they don’t like them. The situations we were looking at were so blatantly wrong, we wanted to do something about it.”

The $50,000 film project is financed by several private Mid-Missouri investors.

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