Florida Police Brutality and
- A former Hendry County sheriff's deputy who quit after the video
camera in his car caught him kicking and beating a suspect has been
charged with misdemeanor battery, the state attorney's office said
Friday. State Attorney Steve Russell said John R. Childers, 35, of
LaBelle could face up to a year in the county jail on the single count
Childers resigned amid an internal investigation of
his Aug. 28 arrest of Kenneth J. Phillips, 45, of Clewiston. Childers
had stopped Phillips on suspicion of drunken driving and fleeing police.
Phillips did not stop when a deputy tried to stop him. He pulled over
once, but drove away when deputies rushed toward his Jeep.
he was pulled over a second time, the videotape shows Childers running
to the Jeep and swinging a large flashlight at Phillips at least four
times, the Fort Myers News-Press reported in Friday's edition. The
deputies are then seen pulling Phillips from the Jeep and throwing him
to the ground as they punched him and kicked him. The deputies also
used a Taser stun gun and pepper spray on Phillips, the sheriff's
Childers does not have a listed number and it could
not be immediately determined if he has an attorney. Childers'
supervisor, Sgt. Bobby Shaw, was suspended for five days for not
reporting the incident, said Hendry County Sheriff Steve Worley. A
third deputy involved was not disciplined. Phillips wasn't seriously
injured. Childers is scheduled to be arraigned June 21.
- Josh Welch is no teen angel. A high school dropout with a few petty
crimes under his belt at 16, he smokes cigarettes and talks tough. But
his biggest problem on Dec. 9 was that his father had just tried to
kill himself. Blood streamed from gashes on his dad's wrists. He needed
Josh's mother called 911, and several Palm Beach County
sheriff's deputies arrived. They knew the Welches, who have lived in
the same house in Wellington for 22 years. Josh's father, 38-year-old
Leslie Welch, suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He
hadn't taken his medication. It wasn't his first suicide attempt.
handcuffed him and sat him down in the driveway to talk. Leslie Welch
seemed to be in a daze, his son says, and his blood was dripping onto
But there was no ambulance, no paramedics.
were just talking to him. The ambulance wasn't here. So I called 911
again," he said. "I asked for cops who could do their job."
In a sheriff's report, the deputy wrote that Josh "came at me with a
lit cigarette in a threatening manner."
who is working toward his GED, admits he mouthed off at deputies. He
said he did walk onto his front porch with a cigarette but didn't
From just a few feet away, a deputy fired two
Taser probes into his chest, "right over his heart, no less," his
father says. Josh remembers the pain and how his body "just wobbled
around and stuff" on his front patio.
Josh said the deputies
arrested him for resisting arrest and possession of paraphernalia,
though neither appears on his state criminal record. Josh said he had
drug paraphernalia in his pocket that he picked up from the driveway.
The probes left two small scars about an inch apart. "I have chest
pains from it," he says.
And the use of a Taser on a teenager
still makes his father mad. "They don't like me, and they don't like my
family, period," said Leslie Welch, who recovered after getting
stitches in his wrists that night.
"I've actually given them reason and they've never shot me. But he's
just standing there, and they shoot a 16-year-old."
- Former Broward Sheriff's Detective Joseph Isabella pleaded guilty to
a single misdemeanor count of falsifying records on Monday, making him
the first deputy to be convicted in the growing crime statistics
Isabella, 34, who worked in Oakland Park, was fired
last week. The conviction makes it likely that he will lose his
certification and be unable to work in law enforcement again. He has
been suspended without pay since July.
- WEST PALM BEACH
- A deputy needed just nine words to justify firing his
Taser stun gun at a 15-year-old girl:
"Subject was given several
commands, but did not comply."
was enough for six Palm Beach County Sheriff's office supervisors to
unanimously approve knocking a 115-pound girl to the ground with a
paralyzing 50,000-volt electric shock. The deputy's report is one of
more than 1,000 that The Palm Beach Post examined in reviewing three
years of Taser use by police from Boca Raton to Fort Pierce, starting
in 2001, when the weapon arrived in South Florida.
some of the reports show that the weapons defused violent
confrontations and averted the use of lethal force, the investigation
One out of every four suspects shocked with
Tasers was unarmed, non-violent and not posing an apparent immediate
health risks from Taser shocks remain under debate, officers have fired
them at the very young and the very old - at least 35 people 16 and
younger, including a 13-year-old girl, and seven people 61 or older,
including an 86-year-old man were shocked. The Post also found that at
least three women claiming to be pregnant were shocked.
Tasers were fired at more than 425 suspects
who were being arrested on misdemeanor charges.
vary widely in how they record and track Taser use, some requiring
little or no explanation for why officers fire the weapon.
is no medical evidence to support the cavalier use by some police
departments," said Ed Jackson, a spokesman for Amnesty International,
which has called for a moratorium on the weapon's use. "Tasers are
being used in situations where guns, batons, pepper spray would never
used Tasers to stop people who ran, people who were verbally
threatening, people who refused to put their hands behind their backs.
They used Tasers on handcuffed people who refused to put their feet in
are less draconian tactics that can and should be used in those
situations," said George Kirkham, a former police officer, Florida
State University criminology professor. They include reasoning,
commands, guiding with open hands and "pressure pain compliance" -
pressing sensitive areas, such as the jaw, he said.
are taught these measures that are lower on the force continuum in
training. We have pictures of people who won't let go of a steering
wheel, and when pressure is applied, their hands come off and no harm
Instead, says Kirkham,
"Police are skipping up the use of force continuum through impatience
and lack of training."
October 2001, when Boca Raton Police added Tasers to their arsenal, to
last December, 19 police agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure
Coast adopted the stun guns. Their use soared from 82 firings in 2002,
to 226 in 2003, to 712 last year.
increase reflects a nationwide trend, and as use has increased, so have
calls for moratoriums on the weapons until more is known about their
effects and whether they are being abused.
officials halted distribution of new Tasers to officers after a
14-year-old suffered a heart attack and another man died within a week.
rights activists in Houston called for police to stop and study the
weapon's use after 12 people were shocked for "verbal threats" to
police officers. Police there, since receiving Tasers in late December,
have averaged one Taser firing a day.
County police chiefs recently agreed on a unified policy that Tasers
"will only be utilized when the police officer reasonably believes that
a subject is an imminent physical threat or the person is demonstrating
an articulable threat to him/herself, the officer, and/or others."
International spokesman Steve Tuttle attributes the increasing scrutiny
given the weapons and how they are used to "phenomenal growth," which,
according to the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, caused the
company's revenue to climb from $2.2 million in 1999 to about $67
million in 2004.
No 'articulable threat'
November, Taser International's Web site stated that the weapon is
"solely designed to stop the most hardened of targets: extremely
violent, aggressive, goal-oriented and drug induced suspects."
Tuttle said that refers to "the 1-percenters, with superhuman strength
and mind-body disconnect." But he adds, the weapon can be used on
suspects "up to" that level of resistance as well.
wording no longer appears on Taser's Web site, but the company's manual
used to train Taser instructors, says: "The Taser is best utilized in
situations where a hostile or potentially hostile individual is
threatening himself or another person." On its Web site, the company
typically refers to the target of a Taser as "the attacker."
tout the effectiveness of the weapon in such situations. At the Palm
Beach County Sheriff's Office, assaults on deputies went down from more
than 400 in 2003, the year the department adopted the weapon, to 200
assaults the following year, said Captain Frank Demario, a training
supervisor for the department. During that year, police officers fired
their Tasers 275 times.
nearly 800 reports from Fort Pierce to Boca Raton, police officers
fired Tasers to subdue armed, violent and threatening suspects and
suspects who refused to show their hands after repeated commands or who
were running toward a house or car from which a weapon could be
in those reports are a man reaching for a deputy's gun, a suicidal
woman holding a knife to her throat, a man armed with a machete who
told a deputy "God help you if you come near me" and a violently
psychotic man, covered with his own blood and urine, who fought off
pepper spray and baton strikes and injured six of seven officers who
grappled with him. In nine instances, they were used on snarling dogs.
1,017 accounts of Taser use on humans examined by The Post, however, at
least 237 described encounters with people who were not reported to be
armed, violent or posing any immediate potential harm to anyone,
including themselves. Of those, 143 were charged with misdemeanors, and
at least two were not criminally charged at all. They included:
Riviera Beach, a police officer used his Taser on a man he was trying
to question after finding him asleep on a park bench. The man cursed at
the officer and refused to stand to be searched. The officer shocked
him on his leg and his shoulder and then released him with a warning
about trespassing. A Riviera Beach Police supervisor said the police
officer was reprimanded for the inappropriate use of force.
suburban Lake Worth, a deputy investigating a car theft fired his Taser
at a man who refused to follow orders. The suspect then complied but
Boynton Beach officer stopped a man for riding a bicycle after dark
with no headlight. When the man dismounted and started to run, the
police officer shot him with a Taser. The officer took the man and his
bike to the police station, issued him a citation, then released him to
ride his bicycle into the night - with no headlight.
officers and their trainers say capturing fleeing suspects is part of
what the Taser is designed for; it is a "distance" weapon that works
where others such as pepper spray wouldn't.
police departments encourage officers to fire their Tasers rather than
chase a fleeing suspect, according to Josh Ederheimer, director of the
Police Executive Research Forum's Center for Force and Accountability.
That is because foot pursuits can lead to ambushes and accidents. But,
he added, "You have to think about it. If someone is running away, the
darts can miss or disengage."
St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office is the largest agency in the
three-county region that has refused to issue Tasers to its officers.
are some benefits to the tool, but I think that there are too many
cases we have seen where there are questions of abuse or excessive
use," Chief Deputy Gary Wilson said.
they see more specific guidelines for use and more convincing studies
showing the effects of 50,000 volts of electricity flowing through the
bodies of the elderly, pregnant women and drug addicts, Wilson said,
they will not use the weapon.
Accountability varies widely
Some departments weigh
officers' cannisters of pepper spray at the start and end of every
Tasers come equipped with a
"dataport" in the weapon that is designed to record every trigger pull.
record protects officers from unfounded complaints of abuse and allows
supervisors to track their use, Taser International points out.
vary widely, however, in how thoroughly they require officers to
explain each use and how much the use is scrutinized by supervisors. In
addition, only a handful of departments attempt to track how often
their officers point the weapons without firing.
addition, reports in which officers fired at "unknown" suspects who
escaped without being hit by the prongs don't in themselves raise a red
flag, according to Ederheimer of PERF, because it is understood that
Taser shots can go astray. Such incidents, however, leave only an
officer's account of why the Taser was used. Of 16 reports of "unknown
subjects," nine from Riviera Beach cops did not report any description
of who they were firing at, including gender or race or why they were
trying to detain or arrest the person.
Palm Beach police require supervisors reviewing Taser incidents to
interview suspects and to evaluate the use of force in their own words.
Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, in contrast, requires supervisors
only to read the police officer's report and conclude whether the use
was within department guidelines.
chiefs in Palm Beach County are now working on countywide guidelines
for Taser use. A panel headed by Boca Raton Police Chief Andrew Scott
has examined restrictions on stun gun use, circumstances under which
the weapons should be used and medical treatment following Taser
shootings. Scott declined to point to specific changes being considered
but said resulting guidelines are likely to go beyond issues addressed
in existing local policies.
Bradshaw is optimistic, too,
about those efforts.
"Obviously you're going to
prohibit use of Tasers on pregnant, elderly, children, people in high
places," he said.
- An officer has been suspended for zapping a 13-year-old girl at least
twice with a stun gun while she was handcuffed in his caged patrol car.
An internal report by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said Llahsmin
Lynn Kallead was handcuffed and in the back seat of the patrol car when
Officer G.A. Nelson stunned her, the Florida Times-Union reported for
Nelson and his partner had been called to the
apartment Kallead shares with her mother Rosie Vaughan because they
were fighting Feb. 7. Vaughan wanted police to help get medical help
for her daughter, who had been hospitalized for observation in the past
for emotional disorders, the newspaper said.
a 6-foot-2 officer weighing 300 pounds, allegedly used the low-setting
stun mode when the 4-foot-8 Kallead wormed the handcuffs from behind
her back and would not do as directed. "The situation was under control
at this point," the internal report said.
D.E. Smith, who was called to the scene, said, "Please don't tell me
this is the person you Tased." Department spokesman Ken Jefferson said
Nelson has been suspended for three days.
questioned the judgment of the officer, and he began the investigation
process," Jefferson said Monday. Nelson did not violate written
guidelines on using stun guns, but his actions showed poor judgment,
the report said. He had been trained to use Tasers and received
training as an instructor in January.
- A police officer and two other men were arrested Monday, accused of
entering the home of a Brazilian man, threatening him and stealing a
rare watch and more than $47,000 in cash.
Police said Officer
Milton McKinnon, 35, joined Michael Alexis Kuryla and Justin Tavis
Bohanan, both 31, in the raid. All three were released from jail after
posting $250,000 bail each. On April 17 the three men went to Fransisco
Decarvalho's home in the Brickell neighborhood. Decarvalho is a
Brazilian national, police said.
McKinnon was in uniform and the
other two told Decarvalho that they were police officers, investigators
said. According to police spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz, the men were
allegedly hired by Miami jewelry store owner David Levison to collect
$61,000 in a business debt.
Schwartz said Decarvalho had
purchased watches from Levison under the assumption that one of them
was a very rare timepiece. After Decarvalho found out the watch was
counterfeit, he stopped payment on a check to Levison. Levison then
employed Kuryla to get the money or watches back, Schwartz said.
do not know if McKinnon was paid for his participation, during which he
was on duty, dressed in full police uniform, driving a marked vehicle
and carrying his service firearm, police said.
While at the
apartment, Kuryla took four expensive watches worth more than $100,000
and pocketed more than $47,000 in cash. McKinnon withheld the victims'
passports and returned them along with three of the watches before
leaving the apartment, police said. The watch stolen was worth $50,000,
They trio was charged with armed home invasion
robbery and armed false imprisonment. Kuryla and Bohanan were charged
with impersonating police officers, while McKinnon was charged with
helping them impersonate police.
Levison did not immediately
return a message left at his store for comment. McKinnon has been
relieved of duty and is facing termination, Schwartz said.
- A police officer who worked at Lakeland High School has been
suspended for violating the police department's stun gun policy.
one case, Officer Michael Branch stunned five members of the school's
baseball team after they "asked you to show them what it felt like to
be 'Tased' and you obliged them," Police Chief Roger Boatner said in a
disciplinary letter to Branch.
In a later incident, Branch
stunned two boys, ages 17 and 18, who were blocking his path as he
tried to make his way to a fight that had broken out between two
"The students were not facing you at the time and did
not offer 'active physical resistance,' " Boatner said. Active
resistance is a required factor in the department's policy on proper
The weapons, which deliver 50,000 volts of
electricity and are touted as nonlethal by their manufacturer and law
enforcement, have been under increased scrutiny after the deaths of
some suspects. Amnesty International USA cites 103 Taser-related deaths
in the United States and Canada since 2001 and has called for a
moratorium on their use until further medical studies can be done.
human rights group is especially concerned about use on children
because their brains are still developing and there is no medical
evidence as to how the jolts may affect that development or whether
they could cause emotional problems, Edward Jackson, media director for
Amnesty International, said Friday.
Drug intoxication is the
official cause of death in most Taser-related deaths, Jackson said,
which raises another concern: "If kids are on Ritalin and they're
shocked with the Taser, are we going to see the same situations that
we've seen with adults who are on stimulants and die after being
shocked with a Taser?"
Boatner acknowledged the ongoing debate
in his letter and said that is why following department policy is
important. "To develop a personal deployment policy on the 'fly' is
unsound and cannot be permitted," he told Branch.
imposed a 2 1/2-day suspension for the baseball incident and a one-day
suspension for the fight, although he made them concurrent so Branch
will miss only 2 1/2 days.
Branch, a 17-year department veteran,
has transferred to school resource officer at Lakeland Highlands Middle
School and "voluntarily gave up his Taser," police spokesman Jack
Branch reported his use of the Taser during the
fight, but police didn't learn about the baseball players being stunned
until another student told his father and the father complained to
Lakeland's principal, Gillen said.
- Deputies who claim they were coerced by supervisors into falsifying
crime reports won't be able to use that as a defense in their upcoming
misconduct trials without a specific ruling from a judge.
Circuit Judge Michael Gates' recently ruled that Christian Zapata, a
former Broward Sheriff's Office detective in Weston who is accused of
wrongly clearing cases, can't present any evidence, testimony or
documents that could show he did so at the behest of supervisors.
selection gets underway today for Zapata's trial, two years after the
State Attorney's Office began investigating allegations that deputies
cooked up phony numbers on crime reports.
only three deputies charged since the onset of the investigation, the
outcome of Zapata's trial could have a big impact on whether other BSO
investigators will be charged in the coming months.
could definitely be a show stopper if he [Zapata] is found not
guilty,'' said Peter Scharf, director of the Center for Society, Law
and Justice, at the University of New Orleans.
A former BSO detective in
Oakland Park, Joe Isabella, pleaded guilty April 12 to falsifying a
told BSO investigators he wrongfully cleared cases because of pressure
from supervisors and colleagues. Isabella intended to use a coercion
defense if his case had gone to trial.
BSO fired Isabella in April.
and former Weston detective Chris Thieman, also arrested in December on
multiple counts of official misconduct, were placed on paid
administrative leave pending the outcome of their trials.
former detective, Scott Jordan, has told prosecutors that supervisors
pressured him into clearing cases improperly. Jordan has not been
charged with a crime.
also took a statement from the director of the nonprofit National
Institute of Ethics, who conducted integrity classes at BSO in 2000,
2001 and 2003.
Trautman, in a Jan. 28 sworn statement given to Broward prosecutors,
condemned crime accountability systems such as BSO's Powertrac, in part
because they inevitably push top brass to pressure underlings to
improve their crime rates by any means.
the prosecution isn't letting [deputies] talk about the climate of
coercion within the agency, maybe they're just going after the foot
soldiers and not the generals,'' Scharf said.
`It's difficult at this time
to say just how high they want to go.''
an eight-year veteran, is charged with making up confessions and
pinning crimes on people who were in jail or school at the time the
burglary or theft occurred.
show Zapata blamed one teen for nearly 30 Weston-area crimes, including
one where he said the then 14-year-old hauled away 27 trees weighing
more than six tons from a vacant lot.
arrested a 15-year-old and cleared nearly a dozen crimes by saying the
teen committed them, although attendance records show the youth was at
Falcon Cove Middle School at the time some of the crimes were committed.
blamed numerous burglaries on a 21-year-old, including the theft of an
amplifier from the trunk of a car in the Weston Hills subdivision, that
took place 16 hours after he was in custody.
The trial is
expected to last up to four weeks with prosecutors calling more than
- ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. A 5-year-old girl was handcuffed by police after
she tore papers off a bulletin board and punched an assistant principal
in kindergarten class, according to a video released by a lawyer for
the child's mother.
30-minute tape shows the child appearing to calm down before three
police officers pinned her arms behind her back and put on handcuffs as
she screamed, "No!"
camera was rolling March 14 as part of a classroom self-improvement
exercise at Fairmount Park Elementary, attorney John Trevena said.
who provided the tape to the media this week, said he got it from
police. "The image itself will be seared into people's minds when you
have three police officers bending a child over a table and forcibly
handcuffing her," said Trevena, who represents the girl's mother, Inga
spokesman Bill Proffitt said an investigation into the matter would be
complete in about two weeks and the findings would be made public.
--Miami-Dade police shocked a 6-year-old boy with a 50,000-volt stun
gun to keep him from hurting himself with a piece of glass he was
waving around in a school office, officials confirmed Thursday.
say they followed their Taser guidelines, the child wasn't injured by
the shock and he might have hurt himself seriously if they hadn't
the incident, which occurred Oct. 20 at Kelsey Pharr Elementary in
Brownsville, has child advocates and experts shaking their heads in
just sounds excessive to me to Taser gun a 6-year-old when everyone
else around there were adults,'' said retired Broward County Juvenile
Judge Frank Orlando, who runs a youth-law clinic at Nova Southeastern
University. "They couldn't subdue a 6-year-old? Must have been a pretty
Director Bobby Parker said his department is reviewing the incident,
but he defended the officer's decision to use the stun gun.
know the child was not harmed other than the little tiny probe pricks
you get with the Taser,'' Parker said. 'What we do not know is if the
child would or would not have subsequently cut his vein. Had the child
cut his vein and the officer had not Tasered the child, somebody would
be saying, `Well, you had the Taser. Why didn't you Taser the child?'
boy, who has not been identified, had broken a picture frame in the
assistant principal's office and was keeping a security guard at bay
when the principal called 911. The police report did not say why the
boy was so agitated, but principal Maria Mason told police he had a
history of behavioral problems. Mason declined to comment Thursday.
the time Miami-Dade Officers Marie Abbott and Yolanda Rivera and
schools police Officer Valerie Staten arrived, the boy had a cut under
his right eye and another on his left hand. The officers tried to get
him to put down the shard, according to the police report.
Abbott slid a trash can,
hoping the boy would throw the glass away.
he wouldn't, Rivera contacted a supervisor to see if there was a policy
prohibiting the use of a stun gun on a child. There isn't, and the
officer was told to do what she felt was necessary.
The officers continued to
talk to the child, who didn't respond.
he tried to cut his own thigh, the officers acted. Abbott shocked him
with her Taser while Rivera grabbed him before he collapsed.
boy was treated by paramedics at the school and taken to Miami's
Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was committed for psychiatric
Continue to Page 2