Friday, November 30, 2007

Utah Highway Patrolman John Gardner Cleared Of Any Wrongdoing In Investigation Of Jared Massey Tasering; Characterized As "Justified"

On November 30th, 2007, the Utah Department of Public Safety concluded their investigation of the incident where Jared Massey got tasered by Utah Highway Patrol Trooper John Gardner, and have cleared Trooper Gardner of any wrongdoing, characterizing the trooper's use of the Taser as "justified". Stories published by the Deseret Morning News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and aired by KSL Channel 5 and KTVX Channel 4 and KUTV Channel 2.

Click HERE to review all previous posts on this incident.

During a late-afternoon press conference, Utah Highway Patrol Colonel Lance Davenport identified three main issues in the investigation. "First", he said, "a communication breakdown between Trooper Jon Gardner and Mr. Massey. Second, a delay in the investigative process of this incident. Third, the use of a Taser".

Communication: UHP investigators feel the officer who dealt with Jared Massey in this incident did not communicate well enough with Massey when he giving him the speeding ticket.

Investigation: UHP investigators acknowlege there was a delay in reporting the incident. The Department of Public Safety said they did not find out about it until three days after it happened, about the same time it was posted on YouTube.

Taser Use: The most important issue. UHP investigators said they feel that using it was justified and reasonable because when an officer is out there he or she has only a split second to make a decision on the use of force. In this incident they feel that use of force was justified because Massey had turned his back and looked like he was reaching into his pocket.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has been asked to conduct a probe to see if any criminal violations occurred. The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council also may be involved, DPS officials said.

Gardner has been placed on paid administrative leave over death threats that were posted against the trooper's life on the Internet. As of right now, no disciplinary action against him appears to be contemplated.

On September 14th, Jared Massey, 28, was pulled over on U.S. 40 near Vernal for speeding. He refused to sign a citation and argued with the trooper, who ordered him out of his car. As Massey walked toward a speed-limit sign, Trooper Jon Gardner pulled his Taser and ordered the man to put his hands behind his back. Once again, the video itself is posted here so readers can refresh their memories:

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Scott Duncan acknowledged the role of the video in making the DPS hierarchy first aware of the incident, prompting the internal affairs investigation. "We have heard from hundreds of people across the country and the world with the Internet the way it is," said Commissioner Duncan.

The YouTube video of the incident has taken on a life of its own, being viewed more than 1 million times. It has prompted a flood of angry comments, complaints and even death threats against the trooper and Massey. DPS investigators said they are conducting a separate inquiry into those threats.

Massey has said he is considering a lawsuit against the UHP, but has yet to react to this development. Check the links of the T.V. stations listed above to see if Massey's reaction is aired later this evening.

And KSL Radio has been investigating Utah Taser usage in depth. On November 29th, they began a multi-part report called "Taser Nation". In "Taser Nation Part 1" (which includes radio broadcast), they asked the question as to whether or not Jared Massey would have been tased had he been stopped by a different police agency. Their investigation found differences between the Taser policies of the Utah DPS, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Draper, and West Valley City, although all five agencies exercised at least some basic command and control and enforced the same fundamental cautions. 199 comments have been appended to this report so far.

And on November 30th, KSL Radio aired "Taser Nation Part 2", in which they explored the story of a Samoan man, Al Itula, who was tased in April 2006 for resisting arrest. Itula had a history of running from the police, which was taken into consideration. However, Itula died shortly after being taken to hospital. 165 comments have been appended to this report so far.

And tonight's KSL story has already generated 207 comments as of this post. Opinion, which was running 2-to-1 in Massey's favor earlier, now seems to be shifting back in favor of Trooper Gardner, about 50-50. Many respondents continue to assign blame to both parties. Most commenters are Utahns, with the traditional respect for authority, and appear to be reassured by the mere fact that an investigation was conducted and concluded. Jared Massey himself may have contributed in part by asking people to chill out a couple of days earlier.

While I no longer believe that John Gardner should have been fired, I still think he should have been suspended without pay for at least 30 days. Not only did he tase Massey a second time while he was on the ground, but he quibbled about what happened when the other trooper drove up. I don't expect cops to be perfect, but I do expect them to exemplify the standards they enforce.

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