Saturday, April 11, 2009

Officer Ray F. Robert Refuses to be Tasered as Part of his Training Exercise

Should a sheriff be able to reassign an officer to a different, less desirable position if the officer refuses to undergo a training exercise?

What if that training exercise required the officer to receive a shock from a Taser?

And what if that officer had a note from his doctor advising against it?

Those are among the provocative questions at the center of a lawsuit filed this week by Ray F. Robert against the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

And how those questions are answered depends greatly on whom is being asked.

Robert, who spoke with The Indianapolis Star on Wednesday, said he can't fathom being fired for basically taking his doctor's advice.

"I'd been in law enforcement for more than 31 years, and (when I was terminated), it felt like it was all for nothing," Robert, 54, said. "Just because I can't be Tased doesn't mean I can't do my job."

Robert said two doctors -- including a physician chosen by the Sheriff's Department -- advised him against being Tased. He feared the electrical jolt and ensuing muscle spasms could further injure a damaged vertebra and a metal plate in his back.

"What happens if I become paralyzed? How long is the county going to pay me?" he asked. "What would I be able to do with my life if that happens?"

But Hamilton County Sheriff Doug Carter said other officers, including a 73-year-old employee and another officer with severe back problems, each received a two-second Taser jolt with no ill effects.

"Every single person who underwent the training found value in the exposure," Carter said. "I would never put one of my officers in danger. The vast majority of Taser injuries come from falls, which is why we have the training on a mat with people holding the person (getting Tased)."

Both sides agree that after Robert refused to be shocked in December, the department offered to create a position for him at the Hamilton County Jail.

But Robert's attorney, Daniel Lapointe Kent, called the gesture inadequate.

"They offered another position with a substantial reduction in the overall compensation package, with not as many benefits," he said. "He would have to work weekends and holidays and no longer have use of a squad car."

After Robert refused the position in the jail, Carter said he had no alternative but to fire him.

The issue drew divided reaction Wednesday.

Dalia Hashad, a policy director with human rights watchdog Amnesty International, praised Robert for his refusal and chastised the sheriff's decision.

"It seems they (the Sheriff's Department) lack a strong understanding how dangerous a Taser really is," Hashad said. "Given his medical history and the two doctor's notes, it's obvious he wasn't an appropriate person to be Tased. With that attitude, I'm curious how they're using the weapon on the street. Is there anyone they think shouldn't be Tased?"

Amnesty International is a longtime critic of Taser use. The organization attributes 335 deaths from July 2001 to August 2008 to the device.

But Noblesville Police Lt. Bruce Barnes said that if an officer can't be Tased, it may raise other questions.

"You have to question if someone is fit for duty if they say they can't train for a situation that might occur in real life," said Barnes, whose department is among several in Central Indiana, including Indianapolis police, that require such training. "What happens if you're wrestling with a suspect, and he grabs your Taser (and shoots you)? If you can't perform your duties, you're putting everyone else at risk."

Lapointe Kent said Robert didn't need a Taser because he had other weapons at his disposal, such as a nightstick and his firearm. Carter, however, said Tasers have become integral tools in police officers' nonlethal arsenals.

"The presence of Tasers has quickly de-escalated many violent situations," Carter said. "In five seconds, the situation is brought under control with no injury to the person or the officer. (If you were a suspect,) would you rather be hit in the head with a nightstick or stunned with a Taser with no injuries afterward?"

Tasers temporarily incapacitate suspects by delivering five seconds of 50,000 volts of low-amperage electricity through two barbs shot into the body from up to 21 feet away.

Most training programs give officers the choice of being shot with the barbs or receiving a shorter jolt through a pair of alligator clips attached to a pant leg.

Many agencies believe it is imperative for officers to understand what a Taser shock feels like, in part so they will show restraint before using the device.

In a written statement, Taser company spokesman Steve Tuttle said fewer than 100 injuries have occurred during more than 625,000 training exposures.

Greenwood Police Chief Joe Pitcher said he has had a couple of officers with heart issues who were cleared by their doctors to be Tased.

"Their doctors told them there was no evidence that it would be harmful, so to go ahead and do it," Pitcher said. The training "gives us a good lesson that if we do have to resort to these instruments, we know how painful they are to the people we have to use them on."

"Tasers are very painful but not lethal," he said. "They are subject to abuse if you are not familiar with how painful they are."

Robert's suit, filed in federal court, alleges his constitutional rights were violated and seeks reinstatement, back wages and punitive damages.

A Bunny Tale...Officer Alvin Perez Maces the Rabbit

A Denver sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty to a charge of animal cruelty for using Mace on a rabbit continues to oversee inmates at the Denver County Jail.

Alvin Perez, 41, was suspended for two months without pay and then was reinstated, said people familiar with the case. The date of his reinstatement was not available Monday.

A criminal complaint says that on May 28, Perez saw a rabbit near where he was standing outside the Denver County Jail during his break.

He got a can of Mace and sprayed the rabbit for no apparent reason.

Perez pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty and was sentenced in December to one year of supervised probation, a one-year suspended jail sentence and a $500 fine.

Perez declined to comment.

Retired Officer Cecil Ramsay Shoots Other Officer then Himself

A retired New York City police officer shot an off-duty officer he suspected was having an affair with his police officer wife, then killed himself in the driveway of his suburban home, authorities said Saturday. Cecil Ramsay confronted his wife and a friend, both off-duty New York Police Department officers, when the pair arrived at the family's home Saturday morning, Suffolk County police said.

He accused Officer Edwin Chittick "of seeing his wife," Dady Belfort, said Suffolk County police Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.

"It's our understanding that that is not the case. They're just acquaintances," Fitzpatrick said.

Chittick told Ramsay "in effect, 'I'm not here to have an argument with you,' and walks out," getting into Belfort's sport utility vehicle with her, Fitzpatrick said. Ramsay fired at least three times at the departing SUV, hitting Chittick in the hand.

He then put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger in front of several construction workers doing work on his home, Fitzpatrick said. Other family members had also been at the home with him at the time of his wife's arrival, police said.

Chestean Howard said he called 911 after hearing several gunshots in the neighborhood, then looked out his window.

"He wasn't moving," Howard told Newsday Saturday. "I thought, 'That's it. He's dead.'"

Belfort, who was not injured, drove a short distance to a hospital emergency room, where Chittick was treated for wounds that were not life-threatening.

The SUV - its front passenger-side window shattered and driver and passenger seats smeared with blood - was on the grounds of the hospital for several hours Saturday.

Outside the home about 40 miles east of New York City, a body covered by a yellow tarp lay in the driveway for hours Saturday morning under a steady rain before it was removed on a gurney.

Ramsay, 51, had been ill with heart problems and was awaiting a heart transplant, Fitzpatrick said.

A 2007 article about Belfort in the Congressional Record said she has been an officer since 1989 and was promoted to detective in 2005. She was pursuing a master's degree in criminal justice at the time and has three children with Ramsay, according to the profile.

New York City police wouldn't comment on the shootings or give information about the officers, referring all questions to Long Island authorities.

Officer Joseph Frugoli Charged with Reckless Homicide

A veteran Chicago police officer charged in the drunk driving deaths of two men has been released from the hospital into police custody.

Joseph Frugoli has been charged with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence. He also faces one count of leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

The Chicago police detective is set to appear in bond court Sunday. Investigators say he caused the crash that claimed the lives of two promising young men: 21-year-old Fausto Manzera and Andrew Cazares, 23.

Detective Frugoli turned away from cameras Saturday as he was released from the hospital and into police custody, one day after investigators say he caused a fiery early morning crash that claimed the lives of the two men.

Frugoli's attorney. Greg Smith, accompanied by an unidentified man, left court Saturday afternoon after a bond hearing for his client was rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday because there was a delay in formally processing the 41-year-old veteran police officer.

Disappointed family and friends of one of the men killed also left court with little to say Saturday.

"We have no comments," said Manzera family spokesperson Michael Rihani said when asked if he was disappointed that justice had been delayed.

Relatives and friends continued to gather at the home of Manzera Saturday afternoon. The DePaul University marketing student was the passenger in the vehicle of his best friend when the accident happened.

Friend Patrick O'Malley has known Manzera since they graduated high school together in 2006.

"It was a shame what happened. He was a great kid. He was really artistic, outgoing, always happy and fun to be around," said O'Malley.

Investigators say Frugoli was off-duty and had a blood alcohol content three-times the legal limit when he slammed into the disabled Dodge intrepid driven by Andrew Cazares. Cazares's vehicle was stopped in the right lane on the outbound Dan Ryan expressway near 18th Street, possibly with a flat tire, when Frugoli's black Lexus SUV rear-ended the car, which then burst into flames.

Some who knew Cazares said, after some tough years as a teen, he was turning his life around.

"He told me he had been doing good for a whole year. He said he was picking himself up," said neighbor Sterling Pfizer.

While the two men died, officers say Frugoli fled, walking away from the crash. However, he was arrested a few blocks away.

Colleagues of the 18-year police officer describe him as a good cop who loved his job. Frugoli's neighbors remain shocked.

"He seems like a nice guy. His mom and dad just passed away. He's a good neighbor. I can't say anything bad about him," said one unidentified neighbor.

Published reports indicate the recent crash is the most serious traffic incident for Frugoli. The Chicago Tribune reports Frugoli was cited in at least three traffic incidents dating back to 1990, the most similar to Friday's crash being a January 2005 accident on the Ryan expressway. In that case, a civil court judge reportedly ordered Frugoli to pay $7,000 in damages, after he struck a 61-year-old man's car from behind and pushed it into a median wall.

In all the accidents, tickets issued to Frugoli were either dropped or thrown out.
Detective Frugoli has been stripped of his police powers.