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.