September 11, 2011
Plain Dealer Editorial Board
Howard Hammon III was no angel, especially on the night of June 13.
The 41-year-old was pumped up on booze and drugs when he plowed into the back of a car. He grew surly and fought when Middleburg Heights police arrived and tried to handcuff him.
Hammon, who stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed 275 pounds, stopped fighting only when police Tasered him. He also stopped breathing and was dead on arrival at Southwest General Health Center.
Hammon's own reckless behavior led to the sting of a Taser. It took three officers to put him on the ground. Obesity, drugs, heart disease, stress, his body position and, of course, resisting arrest all contributed to the tragedy.
Earlier this month, Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson ruled the death a "homicide," meaning it was caused by others, not necessarily that criminal liability was involved. The county prosecutor must review the case, but charges are not expected.
"It supports what we've said, that the police did nothing wrong," Middleburg Heights Police Chief John Maddox told Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo.
But this death, and others like it, suggest that more work is needed on the risks of Tasers and on how to train police in their optimal use.
There is no question that police officers must protect themselves when confronted by violent suspects. But the Taser is more than just a tool of nonlethal force. In certain circumstances, it can kill.
Maddox said he is not going to revise his department's protocol on the use of Tasers following the Hammon death. That is a mistake. Hammon was not an armed killer. He was an impaired driver with a bad attitude. He had earned himself some time behind bars, not a hole in the ground.
Police should have clearer guidelines about the risk posed to suspects under the influence or in poor physical health by devices that stun or shock. In some cases, pepper spray or just waiting for sufficient backup might be feasible alternatives.
Best practices come out of bad situations. There may be a lesson to be learned in what happened to Hammon -- not just in Middleburg Heights, but in all police departments.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Sunday, September 11, 2011
September 11, 2011