Cop who tased schoolteacher lands on his feet

In April, 2010, Georgia schoolteacher Janice Wells thought there was a burglar in her home, so she called 911. Then she called a friend to come wait with her until police arrived. Upon arrival, the cop proceeded to ask Wells’ friend questions – some reports say the police officer assumed he was the prowler, others say he was asking the man about himself and his relationship to Wells, on the assumption the whole 911 call was really just a domestic dispute.

The friend left. As the cop was leaving, he asked Wells her friends’ name. She refused to give it, saying the officer didn’t need that information. The cop told her they had to have all such information in domestics – which this was not. In case you’re wondering why she didn’t cheerfully give the officer all the information he wanted, perhaps I should mention at this point that Wells is African-American and the cops in this story are white. White cops harassing, beating, jailing and killing African-Americans for no solid reason is not exactly unheard of in the U.S.A.

So the cop pepper sprayed her, chased her around the yard, got handcuffs on her, and called for backup. Pepper spray is pretty incapacitating, just so you know.

Then the backup arrives. The guy has his taser out, ready to go, even though he knows nothing about the situation. As soon as he sees Wells, he starts tasing her for twice the recommended number of seconds cops are taught. The whole time he’s yelling, “Get in the car!” repeatedly. It’s physically impossible to get into a car while being electrocuted, because electrocution causes seizure-like involuntary muscle spasms. You don’t have control over your voluntary motions while being tased, so there’s just no way Wells could possibly have complied at this point. He pauses with the taser – not long enough for her to get in the car – yells, “You’re gonna get it again!” a few times, then starts back in with the taser. She’s laying on the ground, screaming and moaning and promising zero resistance, but he keeps tasing her for not getting into the car. All this is captured proudly on the police video.

Then Stewart County Sheriff Larry Jones shows up. He knows Wells personally. On the video, he can be seen and heard speaking in a reassuring tone to her as they finally stop the tasing and get her into the car. Jones thinks there’s a racial component to this, and it wouldn’t have happened if she had been a white woman (I’m not so sure, but his point stands).

Murphy, the first cop on the scene was fired for the use of pepper spray. The taser cop, Smith, was about to be fired, but:

Smith, who quit eight days after the incident, remains unrepentant.

“I did what I had to do to take control of the situation,” Smith told the AJC about his decision to repeatedly discharge his Taser.

Yet his former boss, Lumpkin Police Chief Steven Ogle, was shocked when he saw the video.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ogle said. “You don’t use it [a Taser] for punitive reasons, to prod someone. It was evident it was an improper use of force. He was an excellent officer other than that incident.”

Smith resigned just as Ogle started the process to fire him, the chief said. Smith now works for the Chattahoochee County Sheriff’s office.

This guy, who believes electrocuting someone repeatedly while they’re on the ground is gaining “control” of the situation, is still in law enforcement. Ogle says he was an excellent officer other than that instance. Smith says he came out of the car taser a-blazin’ because Murphy sounded weak in his call for backup, like he could barely speak. But if he was in trouble, even those of us who just watch cop shows from the comfort of our homes know the phrases “officer in trouble” and “officer down.” It would take a ludicrous lapse of clear thinking to assume an officer not using one of those phrases was in trouble. He probably sounded weak because he’d been chasing her around the yard and was out of breath.

I just can’t find a way to read Murphy’s actions other than “White cop decides he’s had enough of uppity black woman telling him how to do his job; figures he’ll show her.” I really can’t. Racism and misogyny. As for Smith, not even bigotry accounts for thinking it wise to dash out with your taser and shoot anything not in a cop uniform without a clue what’s going on. Bigotry might account for how long he tased her and some of his other more eccentric behavior, but so would sadism. It’s a form of torture to issue instructions to someone while making it (painfully) physically impossible for them to comply. If he thought this was necessary to gain control of the situation, he’s dangerously unable to assess reality. If he didn’t think it was necessary, if he just enjoyed it, he’s a sadist.

Yet he’s found another job in law enforcement.


  1. sbg says

    I feel physically ill

    “He was an excellent officer other than that incident.”

    Uhm. I think he meant to say “seemed” there. Smith seemed like an excellent officer…because I really have to wonder.

    • SunlessNick says

      And once again, a violent act is defined out of a man’s “true” character. “He’s not really like that, honest.”

      At least Sheriff Jones showed some decency.

      • says

        Yeah, and the irony is, these “exceptions” people make for these people are actually the rules. Most of us wouldn’t be capable of doing what either of these cops did in that situation, to that person. That these cops WERE capable actually tells us all we need to know of their personalities: they feel dysfunctional levels of entitlement, at least toward women and/or blacks and/or whatever other type of person they perceived her as, and people with dysfunctional feelings of entitlement TOWARD ANYBODY (even animals) cannot ultimately help abusing power, if he has any.

    • says

      Exactly. You don’t know how your friends treat people from marginalized groups other than your own, until you see a demonstration of it.

      Though at this point, I don’t know if Smith was acting out of bigotry or is just a sadist who saw Wells as a handy victim. The police forces have got to attract a number of sociopaths who are good at hiding that side of themselves from their colleagues, because sociopaths seek jobs that will give them power, prestige and/or access to easy victims.

  2. says

    You should probably not read, because Radley Balko serves up police misconduct on an almost daily basis, and rarely do the cops get punished. I’m surprised one of them got fired, really, and not just put on paid leave.

    • says

      Me, too, based on Rodney King and some of the other cases I remember over the years. But sweet Jesus, I did a bit of research while writing this article and lemme tell you, that one video I link to is just one example of the many where police cameras capture gross misconduct on film. It’s truly frightening.

      • says

        Here’s what a cop wrote regarding the G20 situation in Toronto:

        The rest of the thinking world realizes that yes, there are idiot, muscle-brained cops out there that fit the epitome of the word “pig” and those are the guys they powers that be put on the front lines and send in to terrorize the masses. They can’t put honest cops with consciences out in front; we don’t “just follow orders,” at least not to the degree of the “shoot first” crowd. We can’t look ourselves in the mirror after shooting tear gas point blank at an unarmed woman; we can’t tell our kids bedtime stories when earlier the same day we trampled peaceful, sitting protesters. Unfortunately, we live in a world where compassion is hardly rewarded with anything other than a painful reminder of how good deeds do not go unpunished, and that the “good guys” that remain are being replaced by sociopaths with badges. I’d like to say that the cops like those shown in the previous pictures and video are the minority, but for some reason I feel the need to be brutally honest. If we’re evenly matched anymore, I’d be genuinely surprised. Put it this way, I don’t make a habit out of inviting co-workers to my kid’s birthday party.

        I get angry when people say things like “all cops are violent neck breaking pigs.” All I really ask is that there’s some sort of mention of the fact that there are good cops out there. But at this point I realize that more people probably believe in Bigfoot, and I guess, I really can’t blame them.

        • says

          That’s heart-breaking. I’m glad to hear it from someone who knows, because it’s what I suspect – not that all cops are bad, not at ALL, but that the good ones may be starting to get outnumbered by the mere “thugs” who enjoy brutality, or at least are perfectly comfortable with it. But it’s really sad.

          I wonder how long it’ll be before we start hearing about cops like the one you quoted getting “punished” by the sociopathic ones for not pulling their weight.

          • Nialla says

            I’ve often gotten the impression it’s not the love of brutality, but the immediate “respect” a person gets by wearing a police officer’s uniform. If that type of person feels they are being dissed in any way, they will retaliate physically, verbally, or both.

            I’ve worked directly and indirectly with law enforcement for a long time, and I call those types of cops the “Respect My Authoritay!” cops, from the South Park gag where Cartman is dressed as a cop and with the line “I am a cop and you will respect my authortay!” (there are clips on YouTube if you haven’t heard it, and no, that’s not a misspelling of authority).

            What really brought it all together was working with an officer who fit that type who came in on his off-duty hours to pick up a paycheck while wearing a shirt of Cartman in that scene. That reference has stuck ever since.

        • Elee says

          This. I can’t speak for cops in Germany but for my workplace. We work with mostly socially disadvanteged families/people, where people were “doomed” to welfare, but there are also a lot of cases where someone suddenly finds himself at the bottom of the social net despite having a good job and being successful. While I can to a degree excuse the belief of an average citizen (at least so is my understanding of an average citizen when I meet new people and they ask me about my job) in welfare kings and queens, I can’t understand this attitude in my coworkers. They should know better. And the constant feeling of shame is certainly not what I signed for when I began my apprenticeship, but shame doesn’t put me in front of a verbally abusive jerk who denies me social support. With an exception of two or three colleagues I wouldn’t socialise with my coworkers privately either. Dunno, maybe I am feeling especially morose today.

        • Charles RB says

          Around the time of the London G20 (where police accidentally killed a newsagent who wasn’t even part of the protest), I remember seeing an op-ed by a retiring copper that said this wasn’t a good-cup/thug-cop thing: this was how they were all being trained to handle protests and view counterterrorism and the like. (Terrorism is a big one) They had to go in with force and show order, because those guys they have to keep in line are really bad. No one’s telling them “it’s just a bunch of hippies, unless someone starts breaking things you just have to be on standby”.

          Add in group dynamics, and you’ll have a lot of normal people becoming thugs in the right situation because that’s how they’re being directed, both from on-high and in police internal culture.

          • Casey says

            About that whole “this is how they’re being trained” thing…

            On 9/11 last a pair of cops had come to our house and harassed us (and blatantly lied to our faces about getting arrested and having my little sister taken away by DHS) because we had marijuana growing in our backyard but my dad hadn’t gotten a card for it yet (long story), and my mom told me that cops didn’t start turning into sociopathic assholes until the late ’80s/early ’90s when they started “training them like marines” as my mom described it.

            Very interesting….

    • says

      I am so glad I discovered Radley Balko, for all that he causes my blood pressure to spike sometimes. Reading his white paper on the militarization of police in America was a gigantic eye-opener for me, and this is after I’ve been an opponent of the Drug War for years.

      If you are interested in free speech issues and countering police misconduct, I also strongly suggest Carlos Miller’s blog Photography is Not a Crime.

  3. Nialla says

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the officer who was fired found another job in law enforcement too. Even if the department hiring him knows about this stain on his record, they still tend to “see blue” instead.

    I’ve seen it before, more than once, with some cops bouncing from job to job every few years.

    • says

      *nods* I don’t doubt it.

      Interestingly, I just read “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, and he examines the Amadou Diallo shooting in terms of how the human brain works. The short version: stereotyping comes from the lizard brain. In high pressure situations, we lose some cognitive ability and fall back on the lizard brain, and that’s why even someone who’s not at all consciously racist could behave in a racist way – because those stereotypes are in us all, sadly, at a very deep level. Gladwell talks to some experts in law enforcement who say the trick is NOT to think cops can behave better than humans are capable of in those situations, but to find ways to avoid cops being put in situations where they can make error judgments that grave. (In the Diallo case, cops saw a black man on a balcony one night in a bad neighborhood, brazenly staying there even after they drove by, and when they confronted him, he ran and pulled a gun on them and they shot him. Except almost everything they perceived was wrong: he was an immigrant who didn’t know to be afraid of cops in that neighborhood, until they came after him and he didn’t understand what they were saying because his English was poor, and what he pulled on them was a wallet.)

      But that sort of cognitive disconnect doesn’t describe this case. It wasn’t a high pressure situation. It wasn’t even the aftermath of one (like the end of a high speed chase, when the adrenaline’s sky high). This was a case of escalating irritation with someone the first cop perceived as behaving above her station. I just can’t read it any other way. There is not even the possibility of a biological excuse for that behavior. There’s no confusion in the cops’ judgment – they just felt entitled to do this, so they did.

      • Nialla says

        What’s amazing to me is they not only do this, but they still do this knowing they’ve got a camera running in their car.

        Car video was intended to help prevent the “cop said/suspect said” stuff and it often does, but there are a lot of cases like this one where they know their actions are being recorded and they either just don’t care or feel it will somehow justify their actions because they don’t realize how it looks from the outside.

        • SunlessNick says

          Or they’re just confident that their position means anyone looking at it will assume they must have been in the right, even if the reason for that remains off-screen (a confidence which is all too often borne out).

    • says

      I try not to hate cops in spite of my bad experiences, but more and more I have to say that a lot of these cops who say ‘don’t judge us all by the bad ones’ aren’t good ones themselves, as they often enable the bad ones by not speaking up, standing by, or outright covering for the bad behavior.

      A good cop would be standing up and saying ‘get these jerks off the force’, not trying to justify or excuse the behavior.

    • Firebird says

      I know someone who desperately wants to be a policeman but he practically gets a high off of getting in a physical fight or “beating someone up” as he puts it. The idea of him in any kind of legal authority scares me. His wife is my friend and I’ve seen him do things like back her into a corner by flicking her repeatedly with a towel and the delight on his face is just frightening.

      • says

        Sounds like anger management issues. Interestingly, that can be a symptom of depression as well as a sign of things like having no conscience. Which doesn’t make the anger management issue better, just more likely to be treated successfully. IF he ever seeks treatment.

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