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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Prosecutor clears Moberly cop in Taser death

August 13, 2011
Brennan David, Columbia Daily Tribune

A second special investigation has cleared Moberly police officers in the death of a 23-year-old man who was tased three times in August 2008.

Special Prosecutor Milt Harper acted for Randolph County in the county’s investigation into the death of Stanley Harlan. Police said they resorted to using Tasers after Harlan resisted arrest when they stopped him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

Harper concluded that Officer J.J. Baird was not criminally negligent. Harper did, however, conclude Baird was civilly negligent based on Moberly’s $2.4 million settlement with the family.

“It should be very clear that he did not do it to harm him and cause death,” Harper said yesterday. “I think he did it out of stupidity, lack of training, etc.”

Darrell Harlan, the victim’s father, said he is disgusted with Harper. “I guess it’s all right to torture people,” he said. “That cop knew how strong the Taser was. He thought it was all right to Taser someone for 31 seconds. Harper is saying it’s fine to torture people.”

Harper’s investigation began soon after special prosecutor and Howard County Prosecuting Attorney Mason Gebhardt in January 2009 concluded Baird was not criminally liable, Harper said. A judge who appointed Gebhardt as special prosecutor later recused himself, resulting in a do-over.

Harper considered the original evidence, the latest scientific testing and testimony from the civil case because some Moberly officers refused to cooperate. At the heart of the matter was the standard for Taser use in 2008 and how that standard has evolved.

In 2009, Taser recommended that chest shots not be used because of possible cardiac issues.

But Baird in this case cannot be held to a standard that did not exist in 2008, Harper said. It was found that Harlan suffered some sort of cardiac condition during his autopsy, making a guilty verdict difficult to obtain for the state.

It was found that Baird applied the Taser three times for intervals of 3, 21, and 3 seconds, Harper said. Harlan’s father disagrees with those times, saying the longest was 10 seconds longer.

“Had he done that today the same way, I would have charged him with a criminal offense,” Harper said. “That would have been criminal negligence because he would have violated a training rule.”

The legal firm that represents Baird and other officers, Brown Carnell Farrow LLC, said it believes its clients acted accordingly to training at that time and criticized Harper for his presumption of civil liability.

“Mr. Harper knows that Moberly’s insurer settled that case without any input from the officers involved,” said a news release from Brown Carnell Farrow. “Mr. Harper also knows that the settlement papers state that no one admits any wrongdoing.”

Harper said he was frustrated with that view, saying, “I hope this demonstrates this officer’s belligerence. I hope his continued belligerence does not cause Moberly another incident in their community.”

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