Police issue report on Taser use | AspenTimes.com

Police issue report on Taser use

John Colson

Aspen police officers employed Taser guns against suspects nine times in the past three years, according to a report the police department issued Friday.The report comes more than a week after officer Melinda Calvano reportedly used her stun gun to shock a 63-year-old homeless woman she believed was trying to steal a sweater from The Thrift Shop. Calvano is now on administrative leave. In a statement issued with the report Friday, Police Chief Loren Ryerson said the department is “deeply concerned” about the June 7 incident near The Thrift Shop.”We fully recognize that a misuse of force could erode the trust the community has in us, and we take the issue very seriously,” Ryerson said.Calvano was involved in seven “use of force” incidents in 2004, according to the report, including one use of a Taser in “preventing a suicide attempt.”In 2005, the report states, she was involved in two “use of force” incidents, neither involving a Taser. She also has been involved in two incidents this year; one when she displayed her Taser, and the June 7 incident.From the start of 2003 through early June, Aspen officers used or displayed Tasers 25 times, according to the report.Officers twice “shot” suspects with Taser probes in that time. The probes are fired as from a pistol and deliver some 50,000 volts of electricity through wires connecting the probes to the Taser.In the other seven instances in which officers used Tasers – including the June 7 encounter – officers applied what is called a “touch stun” or a “drive stun.” That means the probes and connecting wires were removed and officers pressed the electrodes of the Taser device against the suspects’ bodies, delivering what police say is typically a lesser charge.The Taser cases were among 115 “use of force incidents” officers reported since the beginning of 2003. The vast majority of the cases were based on “assault/disturbance” or “disorderly conduct” calls. Police pulled their guns during 22 of the reported incidents.Tasers are sold to police departments across the U.S. and Canada based on claims that they are less lethal than guns and bullets.But the devices have come under criticism in recent years after reports of people suffering serious injuries or dying from Taser shocks. Taser advocates counter that those who have died were either ill, previously injured or had been using illegal drugs prior to being zapped, and that the Tasers did not kill them.In the June 7 encounter, the homeless woman, Carol Alexy, was hospitalized but has recovered, and Ryerson said The Thrift Shop has declined to press charges over the sweater.Alexy reportedly dropped the sweater and walked away after the officer confronted her, making it around a corner of the building before collapsing of fatigue in a nearby entrance. Calvano then reportedly used the Taser while Alexy was lying on the ground.Ryerson said he has called in an independent investigator to lead the investigation, but he declined to identify the investigator or the department she is from until she has accepted the assignment.Ryerson said his department is not re-evaluating its use of Tasers as a result of the Alexy incident. He also declined to say why Calvano said she used her Taser on Alexy, claiming her statement is part of her personnel file and that he cannot release it under Colorado law.The police department hired Calvano in March 2002. She previously worked for the Aspen-Pitkin Combined Communications Center, where she started in 1994.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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