Lucas County Sheriff James Telb suspended his office's use of Tasers and is developing a policy that would require any suspect shocked by the stun guns to pass a medical examination before he or she could be booked into the county jail.
The proposed policy would establish a more time-consuming arrest process for the law enforcement agencies that place criminal suspects in the Lucas County jail, delaying officers from getting back to the streets after arrests in which a Taser is used. It also would create medical expenses for the arresting agencies - and ultimately, their taxpayers.
"The [arresting] officers probably will not like it, but for everybody's safety I think that's the way we have to go," Sheriff Telb said yesterday.
His decision comes more than two weeks after Jeffrey Turner, 41, of Toledo died after he was shocked five times by city police and four times by sheriff's correction officers at the jail in separate incidents that occurred about three hours apart. Toledo police approached Mr. Turner outside the Toledo Museum of Art on Jan. 31 after security there reported a suspicious man had been loitering outside the closed museum for more than 40 minutes. Arresting officers said they used a Taser to subdue Mr. Turner after he refused to cooperate and then fought being taken into custody.
After he was carried into the county jail, Mr. Turner was booked and ate a boxed lunch before becoming agitated again. He refused attempts to restrain him and corrections officers then shocked him with a Taser. A nurse dispatched to Mr. Turner's cell as a matter of procedure to check on him after the stun gun's use discovered he was unresponsive. He died a short time later at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.
The Lucas County Sheriff s Department and jail had used the larger and older M26 model. The smaller X26 model is used by police in Toledo, Washington Township, and Oregon.
The Lucas County Coroner's Office said the cause of his death remains inconclusive pending the results from toxicology tests and further investigation.
Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said he supports the sheriff's proposed policy despite the more time-consuming arrests and medical expenses.
"But the positive is, if you were going to prevent a death from occurring, you can't associate a cost with that," said the chief, whose department is the jail's biggest user.
Sheriff Telb said that under the proposed policy, the booking officer would ask the arresting officer if the suspect has been shocked by a Taser, which shoots two metal barbs attached to electrical wires into a suspect and then issues a 50,000-volt shock for up to 5 seconds to attack the nervous system and subdue a suspect. If a Taser were used, the arresting officer would have to take the suspect to a hospital for a medical examination and return with documentation on his or her condition before the person is booked.
Sheriff Telb said he plans to get the proposed policy out within a couple of days and will notify area law enforcement agencies.
"We don't know if a Taser contributed to Jeffrey Turner's demise or not for sure, but we're [now] gonna have medical intervention," he said.
The sheriff said there were no internal policy violations in Mr. Turner's death and no administrative or criminal charges will be filed by his office. Chief Navarre said his agency's investigation into the matter is continuing.
Sheriff Telb said his office started removing its Tasers from service Tuesday. Supervisors in the jail and on road patrol had been using the M26 model, which is older and larger than the X26 model used by Toledo, Washington Township, and Oregon police.
Although both devices emit less energy than a defibrillator, their safety has come into question in the wake of more than 85 deaths nationwide in which a Taser was used, including an incident last week in Chicago where a man died and a teen was injured after they were shocked by Tasers.
Sheriff Telb said he is suspending the use of the devices until he receives more results from safety studies about Tasers. He said the devices have been used about a dozen times by his deputies and corrections officers since they went into service last year.
Chief Navarre and other law enforcement leaders support independent studies of Tasers and similar devices aside from research sanctioned by the manufacturers. The chief said the medical community must be involved in the studies.
Friday, Chief Navarre sent letters to the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the U.S. Department of Justice requesting the groups conduct "independent comprehensive research into the safety of [Electro-Muscular Disruption] devices."
Joseph G. Estey, president of the International Chiefs of Police Association, said yesterday that Tasers can be useful, but he understands the rising concern from law enforcement agencies. He said the association plans to issue a report this month outlining factors it believes departments should consider before buying or using the devices.
Several cardiologists and medical experts interviewed by The Blade said there's little objective evidence available to evaluate whether Tasers are safe. John Wikswo, a Vanderbilt University biomedical engineer who has reviewed the few Taser-related studies available, said, "My official position is more studies need to be done looking at the breadth of changes induced by this intense stimulation."
Toledo police reported 229 incidents involving Tasers used on people last year.
Washington Township Police Chief Chris Kaiser said his department will continue to carry its four X26 models, which have been used twice since last year.
Oregon police Chief Tom Gulch said his department also will continue using the stun guns but is considering a cap on the number of times a person can be shocked. Chief Gulch said his agency has about 50 X26 models and has used them about three times since receiving them last year.
Sylvania Township Capt. Rob Boehme said he hopes department orders that include calling emergency medical technicians to check anyone subjected to a Taser will satisfy Sheriff Telb's proposal. Township police started carrying the devices this year.
Staff writers Mike Jones and Luke Shockman contributed to this report, which includes information from The New York Times.
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