Thursday night the classroom expanded into the community for several hundred students enrolled in political science courses at FAMU.
Lecture met life as the students, along with police officers, government officials, locals and attorneys gathered at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for “Tasing and Police Conduct: Are We Safe?,” a town hall meeting organized by Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor.
The meeting was organized partly in reaction to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s 85 1/2 documented Taser related deaths.
On April 9, John Daly, a rookie Leon County Sheriff Deputy resigned after wrongfully shooting U.S. Marine reservist Cpl. Demar Jackson with a Taser.
The charges, filed on March 7, for resisting arrest without violence have since been dropped and Sheriff Larry Campbell has issued a public apology.
But for the crowd of concerned citizens at Bethel AME, an apology just wasn’t enough. They wanted answers.
The people that could provide them were present.
The panel consisted of Campbell, Tallahassee Chief of Police Walt McNeil state Senators Tony Hill and Gary Siplin amongst others.
“When issues are not discussed in time they become a problem for the community,” Proctor said. “What is safe? What is good about this device?”
Hill told the crowd horror stories about the Taser.
A Taser has the ability to jolt it’s target with a reported 50,000 volts of electricity.
Many were concerned with the fact that a number of children have been tased. Hill said nine of the last 12 children tased in Putnam County were black.
“We can fire all the officers we want,” Hill said. “Until we change the policy we won’t change the mindset.”
As of right now there is no state-wide mandated policy on when, and in what circumstances, Tasers can be used by law enforcement officers to gain control of a suspect.
“If we use the gun and kill someone,” McNeil said. “The attorneys are gonna turn around and say why didn’t you use the Taser.”
However, the majority of the town hall talks centered on the research done on the effects of the Taser on the human body, or lack thereof.
According to the panelists, a clear conflict of interests is present provide all research done on the effects of Tasers.
“Most agencies conduct their own training beyond what the manufacturers requires.” McNeil said.
Rob Reisinger, the training officer for the Leon County Sheriff’s Department said he has tased over 200 people and been tased on several occasions.
Reisinger said he believes the effects on the body are minimal at worst.
“It will not disrupt the heart. It will not disrupt the pacemaker,” Reisinger proclaimed.
“Rake your feet across the carpet a couple of times and touch something medal. That’s approximately 50,000 watts.”
When the eruption of laughter that ensued following Reisinger’s comments finally subsided, someone seemingly more qualified to comment on such a matter rebutted his statement.
“You can stop the heart from beating with a well timed fist to the chest,” said Edward Holifield, a local cardiologist.
During the lengthy question and answer period, a Tallahassee resident suggested an advisory board be set up to open the dialogue between law enforcement and law-abiding citizens.
The last question of the night appeared to resonate the most with everyone in attendance.
A young woman walked up to the microphone and asked: “Why issue any Tasers to police officers if all the research hasn’t been done?”
Wednesday morning a bill was passed in the Florida Senate to codify a policy regarding the use of Tasers.
Contact Nick Birdsong at firstname.lastname@example.org.