Monday, August 24, 2009

Daughter of Cincinnati City Councilman Gets Tased During Traffic Stop

Celeste Thomas, daughter of Cincinnati City Councilman Cecil Thomas, was tased last night by Cincinnati Police during a traffic stop. From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The incident involving Celeste Thomas began unfolding just after midnight Saturday when Officer Stephanie Glueck and Jennifer Myers were driving on West McMillan in Clifton Heights when they saw a 2004 Toyota Corolla hit a city garbage truck at 73 West McMillan.

When it seemed the driver, Demetri Washington, was not going to stop, the officers initiated a traffic stop.

A video of the arrest of Washington, 33, on charges of resisting arrest, drunken driving, driving without a license and a burglary warrant and of Celeste Thomas, 26, on charges of obstructing official business and open container, shows what happened next.

Washington pulled over and Glueck walked up to the driver’s side window and asked Washington for his license and proof of insurance. He didn’t immediately comply. When officers found Washington was wanted on a warrant for burglary, he was arrested and handcuffed.

Here is video of the incident:

The officer who tased Thomas is Anthony Plummer who has had his police powers revoked and is currently being investigated for using excessive force. Police Chief Thomas Streicher has already stated publicly that Plummer did not follow proper police procedures and that improper force was used. In addition, it appears that Plummer has a past history of using excessive force. Again from the Enquirer:

Plummer joined the force in 2001 and his personnel file shows a suspension for use of force, two reprimands and an incident that led to his being fired.

Plummer was fired in August of 2006 for violating procedure during an arrest in which he used a Taser. An arbitrator reinstated Plummer in September of 2007.

If Plummer is found to have violated department policy in Celeste Thomas’ arrest, he will face a disciplinary hearing. A hearing officer will make a disciplinary recommendation to Streicher, who in turn will make one to Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney.

If disciplinary action is taken, it cannot be based on that prior incident because as per police contract, incidents are cleared for an officer’s record after three years.

While the quick response and candid reaction of Chief Streicher is rare, it is has drawn praise from Christopher Smitherman, the local President of the NAACP:

“I give them an A-plus to this stage,” Smitherman said. “The collaborative agreement was about trying to change the police culture, and we’re seeing here that that’s happening.

“When the police chief feels comfortable enough at this early point in an investigation to say publicly that he thinks the officer was wrong and used excessive force, that shows me we’re getting closer to where we all want to be in terms of police-community relations,” Smitherman added.

This recent local situation is only one in a long series of police actions from across the country that have resulted in children, the elderly, and the handicapped being subdued by the use of tasers.

digby writes often about civil liberties and tasers and recently wrote the following:

Tasers were sold to the public as a tool for law enforcement to be used in lieu of deadly force. Presumably, this means situations in which officers would have previously had to use their firearms. It's hard to argue with that, and I can't think of a single civil libertarian who would say that this would be a truly civilized advance in policing. Nobody wants to see more death and if police have a weapon they can employ instead of a gun, in self defense or to stop someone from hurting others, I think we all can agree that's a good thing.

But that's not what's happening. Tasers are routinely used by police to torture innocent people who have not broken any law and whose only crime is being disrespectful toward their authority or failing to understand their "orders." There is ample evidence that police often take no more than 30 seconds to talk to citizens before employing the taser, they use them while people are already handcuffed and thus present no danger, and are used often against the mentally ill and handicapped. It is becoming a barbaric tool of authoritarian, social control.

This is a pattern that we have seen time and time again and in case after case. Tasers are not always substituted for the use of lethal force, but rather for the use of dialogue. People are tased not always for posing a danger to the safety of the police officer, but for mouthing off to the police or not fully complying with commands. This is a dangerous path to continue down with a device that has proven itself capable of causing death.

In this most recent local case, the police admit that Celeste Thomas was on her knees with her hands in the air when she was tased in the back. Regardless of the fact that she got out of the car against the commands of the police, she was not posing a danger to the officers who were on the scene as she was on her knees with her hands in the air. If tasers are to be used in place of lethal force, are we to believe that Officer Plummer would have shot Thomas? I have seen many comments on local news websites that have been posted by users suggesting that Thomas got what she had coming because one should expect these consequences if one does not comply with the commands of the police. I think we are better than that as a society.

We should expect citizens to have a certain level of earned respect for law enforcement officers, but we should also expect these same officers to use force sparingly when other tactics are exhausted. We should expect that tools of force should not be used simply because they are easier and create a sense of fear within the public, especially with a tool that has been known to have deadly effects. As a society we should continue to examine tools such as the taser as it is used more liberally during situations that once seemed routine and ask ourselves if this is truly an effective tool, or if it is exerting more authoritarian controls over the greater population.

This is crossposted here.


Gargantuan Media said...

Hello Chris, I find many interesting points of disagreement w/in your presentation of this case.

The "Do You Know Who My Father Is" defense rarely gains anyone any public support. Especially when the person in question is apparently half-drunk and found with a convicted felon with an open warrent. On top of that the driver has just fled from a hit-and-run accident.

Hundreds of people are tased every year in America. This number, I'm told, also includes every class of police recruits.

How many times in your own life have you ignored a police command? What did she have to lose by complying? Her "street cred"?

Being half-drunk and all over-privledged does make anyone above the law.

I've recently taken a look at this case at my own blog:

That's So Gangsta: Do You Know Who My Father Is?


Chris Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by Gargantuan Media.

The issue here is not the quality of people that Celeste Thomas is hanging around with, it is whether the tasing was justified and about the use of tasers in general.

Celeste Thomas was the passenger in this instance who exited the car against commands of the officers on the scene. When asked to get on the ground, she put her hands in the air and went down to her knees. From this position she was tased by Officer Plummer in her back. Was Thomas a threat to the officers as she was on her knees with her hands in the air? I don't believe that she was and neither does the Chief of Police who has labeled this incident one of excessive use of force.

Just because one does not fully comply with a command given by a police officer does not automatically mean that they should be shot with a taser. Tasers were sold to the public as a step down from lethal force and as a way to protect Police Officers from immediate danger without using their firearm. This is clearly not what has happened as tasers have now become a convenient weapon of choice to use on people who are argumentative (not a crime) and who do not fully comply with police orders.

Whether you like Thomas' attitude as she says "do you know who my father is" is irrelevant to this issue at hand. Whether or not this statement should carry public sympathy is also irrelevant to this issue. The bottom line is that Thomas was not accused of a crime during this traffic stop and was not a threat to the officers as she questioned the arrest from her knees with her hands in the air.