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City: Taser policy to stand
Police still carry devices

Sunday, October 4, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A civil rights group repeated its call for a moratorium on Taser use Friday after learning that Martinsville police officers will continue to carry the devices following the death of a youth after a Taser was used to subdue him.

Martinsville City Manager Clarence Monday said Friday he received a copy of the report filed in the Virginia State Police investigation into the death of Derek Jones, 17, on Jan. 8.

Monday described the report as "very brief." He said it stated that no charges would be filed against the police officer who deployed the Taser and that the 9-month investigation of the incident was concluded.

After reading the report, Monday said he held discussions with city attorney Eric Monday and an attorney for the city's insurance company.

City officials then determined no changes were needed to the current policy on police use of Tasers and, "basically, as far as we're concerned, the case is closed," Clarence Monday said.

The autopsy report did not conclusively show what caused the teen's death, according to Joel Branscom, Botetourt County commonwealth's attorney.

The report stated that the Taser, a compliance device, could not be definitively excluded "as a causative or contributive factor" in Jones' death, Branscom has said.

The Taser was deployed after a police officer responding to a call on Rives Road saw a male run up the steps inside a duplex Jones shared with his mother. Police said that person obeyed the officer's directions, but a second male (Jones) moved toward the officer in an "offensive stance" when entering the room. The Taser was deployed and Jones later was found unresponsive, police have said.

The police officer is back on full duty and "has been for some time. We feel our Taser policy is in accordance with guidelines" governing the use of Tasers, Clarence Monday said. "We have examined our policy to make sure it's up to date, and we feel no changes are needed at this point," he added.

Previously, Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said those policies conform to guidelines prescribed by the state and outlined in the Standards for Law Enforcement Officers.

According to the police department's "Use of Force" policy, a Taser may be used only when necessary to overcome actual or threatened physical resistance while on an official duty and when it is believed that the use of a less obtrusive method would either allow the individual to escape or lead to physical injury of the officer or others.

The Rev. William Avon Keen of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) said Friday he did not know about the city's decision until he was told by a Martinsville Bulletin reporter.

"We have not received this information from" city officials, said Keen, of Danville. "We had hoped they would review their policy and determine more information was needed" on Taser use.

During a meeting earlier this year, the SCLC called for a moratorium on Taser use and urged city officials to suspend using the devices until more studies were completed.

The SCLC also requested additional information from the city "on their policies and that sort of thing," Keen said.

He declined to elaborate.

"They are aware of what we requested from them," he said, but noted the information has not been forthcoming.

Keen said representatives of the group are working to schedule a meeting between the SCLC and Martinsville officials but as of Friday, no date was set.

In the interim, "our position remains the same. We're still calling for a moratorium until we find out whether or not Tasers are causing deaths," Keen said Friday.

 

 
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