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However, John Gardner apparently hasn't just been sitting at home drawing pay. He's completed a course in verbal communication and conflict resolution -- skills UHP says could have made the outcome of that traffic stop much different. But UHP still defends the deployment of the Taser, even if they disagree about how it was used.
"There was a lack of communication, and it could have turned out a different way. However, the use of the Taser was reasonable in the circumstances that he was in," said Sgt. Jeff Nigbur, spokesman for the Utah Highway Patrol.
Gardner was placed on paid administrative leave in November of last year for his protection, not misconduct. "For his own safety, with some of the threats we were receiving on the Internet and also the phone calls we were receiving here at headquarters," Nigbur explained.
After investigating those threats, UHP officials decided it was safe for Gardner to return to work, but although the Department of Public Safety (DPS) review exonerated the trooper, the internal affairs investigation is still ongoing, although it's expected to be wrapped up next week. Investigators are working on setting up a time to meet with Massey about what happened. The outcome of that investigation will ultimately decide what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken. "Verbal counsel, letter of counsel, letter of reprimand, and can go up to termination of employment. But, again, that's based on a case by case basis," Nigbur said. The Utah Attorney General's office is also pursuing its own separate investigation.
To briefly recap the original incident, on September 14th, 2007, Jared Massey was stopped on U.S. 40 near Vernal and cited for speeding. He refused to sign the ticket and argued with UHP Trooper John Gardner, who ordered him out of the car. Gardner ultimately used his Taser on Massey after the Vernal man failed to comply with commands to place his hands behind his back. Gardner then fired the weapon a second time while Massey was still on the ground after Massey did not roll over onto his stomach. YouTube video presented once again for those who might be interested:
It was the second Tasering, plus the fact that Massey was merely walking slowly away from Gardner before the first Tasering, that generated such a public outcry. While cops are expected to expose themselves to risk to protect the community, they are not expected to just stand there and take an ass-whipping or to let a suspect flee without using necessary force. Massey was in that grey area - he was neither physically threatening the trooper, nor was he actively trying to flee.
Massey said he is still considering a civil rights lawsuit against Gardner and the highway patrol.
Commentary: Although the story is only about three hours old as of post time, the interest is still there. 205 comments have been posted in response to the KSL story. At least two-thirds of them favor the cop, so the attitude towards the cops has become more favorable as time heals the memories. Here's an example of one person who's changed his mind:
I'm more sympathetic to the cop...
by tom c. @ 8:58am - Fri Jan 11th, 2008
now that I've watched several programs on cops dealing with the public. I was completely against this cop when I first saw the youtube video, but after watching several episodes of Most Shocking, I've come to be very thankful for the job these guys do. They have no way of knowing if they've pulled over someone that is not playing with a full deck. And once in a while when they do, they never know if they're going to get shot at.
It's scary as he11 the scum cops have to deal with. Unfortunately, because of this, they all to often treat the rest of the public as potential criminals. I guess that's the only way to stay alive if your a cop.
Perhaps contributing to the shift is the fact that there have been several Taser incidents in Utah since that time, all of which the deployment of the Taser was justified. And, in several of those instances, the officer actually took some physical abuse before using the Taser. So, if anything, Utah cops may be overcompensating on the side of caution now. The Jared Massey case is apparently a fluke which is not representative of typical Utah cop behavior.
Still, I'm not sure Trooper Gardner should be completely let off the hook with no disciplinary action.