by Emmett R Smith
THE Gist of the following is that there is a grave and growing pile of dead bodies in our region, and they point to a grave and maybe deliberately-ignored body of evidence of a serious problem with Tasers, the popular police “none of that now!” high-voltage stun guns.
In fact, it seems increasingly clear that the mentally ill and others in a high state of mental excitement are not reliably subdued by the Taser.
There is an accumulating body of obnoxious press reports not only in America and Canada, but from Europe as well, of numerous deaths and other misadventures resulting from police Taser play. In Canada last year at Vancouver International Airport in perhaps one of the most glaring reports, a distraught and travel-exhausted Polish emigre was jumped and actually Tasered to death by four officers of the RCMP, after the later were summoned when the man in a rage kicked over a table. This happened when he blundered out of the immigration area of the terminal and then was unable to re-enter the restricted area in which he belonged.
A real slap in the face of police authority is that the “non-lethal” practice of applying high-voltage electrical shocks to persons of interest to the police may actually stimulate heightened capacities for enraged violence and mayhem.
Accordingly on the fourth day of Christmas, last year, I submitted the following blinding glimpse of the obvious to the Mankato Free Press, after the news was printed by them that the state courts had thrown out the drive by an overly-ambitious country-county prosecutor in Blue Earth County, to sequester a Free Press journalist’s private notes in connection with the shooting to death by multiagency police forces, of an emotionally-distraught area resident in December, 2006.
28 December 2007
Mankato Free Press
To the editor:
The Free Press has won the fight to defend the important principle of press-immunity in the courtroom. Now we can return to what really happened to Mr Jeffrey Skjervold last winter in rural Amboy on 23 December, 2006. A civilian is dead and two police were badly injured and we owe them all the truth. There are persistant rumors at least of police error. Did an officer in an immature state of excitement over fiddling around with a new Taser go overboard when Mr Skjervold was making his way outside in a negotiated surrender? Still worse, did an officer in an immature state of annoyance at being called out on a somewhat-overdone multi-county 120 mph interagency gymkhana and road rallye on a snug holiday evening haul off and let Mr Skjervold have it with a carelessly handled Taser? Taser play at any rate seems clearly to have precipitated an avalanche of horror and gunplay. Not least these matters have to be aired for the sake of the injured police officers. These folks put their lives on the line for us everyday, and they deserve to know that any incompetents in their ranks are publicly exposed and reprimanded. This is even more important as more and more fatalities are being ascribed in the media to Taser use both in America and Canada and around the world. Finally, if there is no truth to any of this local gossip, our police anyway do not deserve the story going around that they are in any way “taser happy” and a load of God-damned fools.
Emmett R Smith
IRONICALLY, This letter was voided by the shooting to death on the night of 30 December by Mankato city-side forces, of a mentally-ill man who was prancing and raging in the nude, in the worst extremity of hypermania.
It is difficult of course always to have to be second-guessing our uniformed public servants, but again it must be noted that there was more bad luck with the newfangled Tasers. At any rate after hearing the Tee Vee reports of the shooting death of Mr Rick T Vosburgh, I put in the following revised editor-letter and prefatory memorandum:
[TO Whom & so forth, if you do not want to use this in light of all the dreadful confusion, I certainly will not blame you. The real question of course actually may be whether the same officer(s) were blasting away in both the Mr Skjervold and the New Year’s Eve cases? Altogether, police matters in our region seem to have declined with this militarization atmosphere stemming from the fake “terror war,” and all the influxing Homeland security “free” money. The Taser seems now according to the BBC, Radio Canada and other sources to be used increasingly as a kind of “come-along” gimmick. It especially then does not work, especially on the mentally ill! I wonder if the multijurisdictional stuff too may not have generated a psychologically-inferior cozy “us vs them” fantasy atmosphere regionally among some of the more immature “law-enforcement” type personalities? People who do policework tend understandably to be emotionalists as is shown by all the bagpipes at their funerals when a colleague is killed on duty. There is nothing wrong with having a feeling that one is doing important work, but because of the weapons police are privileged to carry, as a human matter these folks especially have to be watched over by public opinion, and supervised if you will by — the editors! Emmett].
1 January 2008
Mankato Free Press
To the editor:
The Free Press has won the fight to defend the important principle of press immunity in the courtroom. Since then, the police in Mankato shot to death a vandal on New Year’s Eve after attempting in vain to subdue him with one of these newfangled Tasers. Now that the Free Press is free again to operate, we must first of all return to what really happened to Mr Jeffrey Skjervold last winter in rural Amboy. It seems to have been a similar sort of Taser episode with a distraught individual. A civilian was killed then too and two police were badly injured and we owe them all the truth, and now the people of Mankato too. There were persistant rumors last winter at least of police error. Did an officer in a state of excitement over fiddling around with a new Taser go overboard when Mr Skjervold was making his way outside in a negotiated surrender? Officers in the Mr Skjervold case on a snug holiday evening two nights before Christmas in 2006 were called out on a somewhat-overdone multi-county 120 mph interagency gymkhana and road rallye. And so, did an officer in a state of annoyance then haul off and let MrSkjervold have it with a carelessly handled Taser? Taser play at any rate seems now clearly to have precipitated more than one avalanche of horror and gunplay in our community. Not least all of these matters have to be aired for the sake of the injured police officers of last winter. Law enforcement folks put their lives on the line for us everyday, and they deserve to know that any jumpy incompetents and angry fumblers in their ranks are publicly exposed and reprimanded. This is even more important as more and more fatalities are being ascribed in the media to Taser use both in America and Canada and around the world. Finally, if there is no truth to any of this local gossip, our police anyway do not deserve the story going around that they are in any way “taser happy.” Or that they kill their “clients” without good cause.
Emmett R Smith
THIS Letter was written on the basis of Tee Vee reports that attested the fumbled use of Tasers; and, I then withdrew it as the initial print-reports following did not confirm the broadcast-references to Tasers. The rumble about Tasers consequently, however, was reintroduced into reports in later numbers of the Free Press.
Here are the links to the current crop of reports of the latest shooting to death of another person of interest to our muncipal, regional and south-central, professionally coordinated, police forces:
THE Taser seems to exert its own idiopathic fascination, too, as a means of self defense and as attested to by a report in the Free Press on 5 January 2008, which ghoulishly enough appeared as front page filler material on an apparently-slow news day. It was an AP report of Taser parties being conducted in Gilbert, Arizona, by Dana Shafman. Like Tupperware parties, these dos are marketing gimmicks, designed to sell designer-pink civilian versions of the stun-gun.
Perhaps the customers, most of whom are evidently female, had ought also to be encouraged to buy a loaded handgun or two to lug along too, in case it is their bad luck to run into someone who gets excited by all this Taser play.
[THE Following links are to a series of reports earlier this year in the Mankato Free Press.
[THEY Are about the wounding of two police officers and the shooting to death of an emotionally distraught rural Blue Earth County man, last Winter.
[THE Reports cited here are NOT a comprehensive list, as the case drags on. The local bench attempted to dragoon the primary news reporter’s telephone notes of a direct conversation with the man killed by the police, and the process of appeal and counter-appeal under the “newspaper shield law” oozes along at this time.
[WHAT Is important to keep in mind — on this point I follow the insights of Hungarian-American historian-emeritus, John Lukacs — is the critical distinction between “public opinion” and popular opinion:
[RIGHT Now, public opinion on the editorial pages is all about press freedom, and no one presumes to second guess the importance of THAT!
[BUT, Popular opinion has it meanwhile that Mr Skjervold’s brother-in-law negotiated a surrender to the baffled police, and that Mr Skjervold was then ambushed in the dark at the corner of his house by an individual officer wielding a Taser. Some speculate that this officer was enraged at having been dragged out on a holiday night, in a huge multiagency multicounty operation.
[TO Me, personally, it is obvious that the police went overboard in a domestic intervention which to be sure did involve earlier shooting — Mr Skjervold had shot out the tires of his own vehicle, in an emotional state of upset with his partner.
[NOT Unreasonably, she was frightened and called for help — equally, it is not unreasonable to note that in this sort of case patience is by far the better part of procedure. Certainly in this case, the police ought to have been willing to put in the time needed to make good the surrender negotiated by the brother-in-law.
[MOST Of all, they should have been willing above all to control THEMSELVES, the possible unprofessional impatience and fury of the less well-trained personnel among them.
[PLAINLY, Events centered on the emotional upheaval of a distraught personality — this kind of personal uproar can be infectious, but it is something the police encounter all of the time, and most usually without fatality.
[THERE Are many unanswered questions, not least because in the popular mind the Mankato police for instance are widely deemed to be “taser happy!”
[DID The police misuse this particular episode as a kind of heaven-sent ”live training” opportunity?
[DID Individuals among them run amuck and go on the rag?
[ARE Some of the police objectively in fact God-damned fools?
[IN The resulting out-of-control avalanche, did two officers unnecessarily get injured?
[DID The police through interagency over-funded ineptitude and over-funded inadequate training unnecessarily kill somebody because of illegitimate emotionalism about would-be ”cop-killers?”
[HERE Is a partial list of the Free Press articles — you tell me!]
26 December 2006:
Three shot in rural Blue Earth county
Two officers shot
Officials plan lengthy investigation
27 December 2007:
Funds raised for officer injured in rural siege
28 December 2007:
Dark day for police
3 January 2007:
6 January 2007:
Skjervold-killing 911 transcripts
15 January 2007:
Law-enforcement pressures local press
17 January 2007:
Attempt to subpoena of press-notes
19 January 2007:
New information may clarify or cloud issue
20 January 2007:
MHP adds to public record
22 January 2007:
911 transcript 1
911 transcript 2
911 transcript 3
911 transcript 4
3 February 2007:
Judicial involvement in free press-question
9 February 2007:
“Suicide” says official death-certificate
14 February 2007:
Possibly wrong ruling by local judge
22 February 2007:
Local heroic editor stands on rights
23 February 2007:
Local reporter-hero bemused by police attitude
22 March 2007:
Family of dead man says he was sober
23 March 2007:
Bemusement of senior local police official on whose watch sober citizen died
31 March 2007:
Grim news for local police agencies?
[Emmett R Smith
[all compilation-rights reserved
[5 January 2008]