Abigail Eagye

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July 28, 2006
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Police fire Taser cop

The Aspen Police Department fired officer Melinda Calvano on Thursday after an internal investigation into an incident in which Calvano used her Taser gun on an elderly woman.In a July 27 memo to Calvano, City Manager Steve Barwick stated: "Your judgment and conduct on that occasion leads me to conclude that you are not suited to be a police officer with the Aspen Police Department. ... [Y]our decision to use a taser on an elderly woman who posed no immediate threat to you, herself, or any one else in the community, displays a complete lack of understanding of the values, philosophy, and mission statement of the Aspen Police Department."The decision comes after an internal investigation that included reports by police officers in Vail and Frisco who reviewed the case at the request of the Aspen Police Department.Shortly after 3 a.m. June 7, Melinda Calvano responded to a report from an off-duty officer that someone was rummaging through items behind The Thrift Shop. Calvano arrived to find 63-year-old Carol Alexy behind the store. According to Calvano's report, Alexy refused to acknowledge Calvano as a police officer and began to walk away."I grabbed her left arm and she raised [a] walking stick above her head in a threatening manner," Calvano wrote in her report. After a short struggle, Calvano said, she was able to wrestle the stick away from Alexy.Calvano further contended that when she told Alexy she was under arrest, "Alexy said to me in a challenging tone, 'you know that I'm bigger than you.'" After a verbal exchange, Calvano wrote, she displayed her Taser to Alexy and said she would fire it if the elderly woman did not comply. According to Calvano's report, Alexy sat down and refused to stand at the officer's request, so Calvano placed the Taser, without its cartridge, on Alexy's right thigh and repeated that she would use it if Alexy did not comply.Town of Vail Police Commander Susan Douglas, who interviewed Calvano on June 29, three weeks after the incident, reported that Alexy is "6'1" and 180 pounds; almost twice the size of Calvano."Douglas stated in her report that Calvano "felt Alexy was trying to intimidate her," so she touched the Taser to Alexy's right thigh for "no longer than 1.5 seconds." Separate investigation notes from the Aspen Police Department state that the Taser download records show a five-second discharge.A stunned Alexy reportedly replied, "you just tased me" and then "rolled onto her stomach and began to breathe heavily," according to Douglas' report. Calvano called for an ambulance, which took Alexy to the hospital. Alexy was released later that morning and taken to the Pitkin County Jail, but the police department later dropped theft charges.According to Douglas's report, Calvano "felt she had to take Alexy into custody for the safety of the Aspen community" and that she chose to use the Taser rather than striking her on the leg out of concern for Alexy's safety.Douglas wrote: "[Calvano] stated that she felt 'whacking a 63 year woman in the leg with her baton' was not an appropriate response to this level of resistance for this particular subject. She felt the taser was the appropriate response because it would cause less injury than the other use of force options that she had available to her."Although Douglas determined that Calvano had violated two points of police policy (discharging the Taser without another officer present and failing to document the incident sufficiently), she ultimately concluded that the officer was justified in using her Taser in this instance."Based on the dynamics of the incident, I feel Calvano was justified in deploying her taser prior to back up arriving," Douglas wrote in her report. "In this instance, it would not be fair to Calvano to Monday morning quarterback her split-second decision to use her taser to gain control of Alexy. ... Calvano made the best decision she could have at the time with the information she had available to her."Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickman, who reviewed an Aspen police report on the incident, was not definitive in his evaluation of the incident. Rather, Wickman noted that at several points during the incident, Calvano would have been justified in discharging her Taser - when Alexy raised her walking stick, for instance. But once Alexy was on the ground, he wrote, "The officer can now wait for backup. The incident at this point is stabilized. I cannot understand the reason at this point to use [the Taser]. There is clearly no threat to the officer."Douglas also reported that Calvano told her that after arresting Alexy, she learned "that earlier this year, Alexy had attempted to strangle another individual at the Castle Creek Terrace Senior Center and the Center did not report it so Alexy would not lose her Center privileges."Abigail Eagye's e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 29, 2006 09:49AM Published Jul 28, 2006 12:00AM Copyright 2006 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.