2 officers out of jobs in wake of repeated Tasering of woman
Not only are black women unprotected by law enforcement and criminal justice, but they are assaulted rather than assisted by those sworn to “protect and serve.” This is how police treat a black female victim of domestic violence.
By Rhonda Cook – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Janice Wells called the Richland Police Department when she feared a prowler was outside her clapboard house in the rural west Georgia town. The third-grade teacher had phoned for help. But within minutes of an officer coming to her backdoor, she was screaming in pain and begging not to be shocked again with a Taser. With each scream and cry, the officer threatened her with more shocks.
“All of it’s just unreal to me. I was scared to death,” Wells said in an interview with the AJC. “He kept tasing me and tasing me. My fingernails are still burned. My leg, back and my butt had a long scar on it for days.” The officer in question is Ryan Smith of the Lumpkin Police Department. Smith was called to back up an officer from the Richland Police Department because the sheriff’s office in the county, Stewart, had no deputies to send. Smith resigned as a result of the incident. The other officer involved, Tim Murphy of Richland PD, was fired for using pepper spray while trying to arrest Wells.
Wells is considering filing a lawsuit, according to her attorney. The details of the altercation between Wells and the officers have been fodder discussions in the two towns, which are only 10 miles apart. Some have speculated there was a racial component to the altercation between Wells and the policemen; Wells is black and the officers are white.
Stewart County Sheriff Larry Jones, who came to the house seconds after the last electric shock was administered, suspects the outcome would have been different if the woman had been white and the officers black. “I don’t think they would have done a white female like that,” said Jones, who is black. “If they had, it wouldn’t have been any doubt about whether they need to be terminated.”
Much of what happened in front of Wells’ house was recorded by the camera on the dash of Smith’s patrol car. The AJC obtained a copy of the video. Wells, hidden from camera view by the open door of the Richland patrol car, can be heard pleading, “Don’t do that! Don’t do that!” “Get in the car. Get in the car. You’re going to get it again,” Smith answered. Almost immediately there is another clicking as the Taser is discharged again and Wells screams.
“Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” Wells pleads again.
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.
And on April 28, the Richland Police Department fired Murphy, the officer who first arrived at Wells’ home. Murphy declined to comment saying he had been told there was an open investigation. Some of the details contained in police department records conflict with those provided in interviews. And only the end of the encounter between Wells and the officers is captured on video. But all agree that the struggle between Wells, 57, and Murphy, 52, started because she would not tell him the name of a friend who was at her house in Richland, 35 miles southeast of Columbus, when Murphy arrived around 9:30 p.m. on April 26. Wells, who teaches in Columbus, said she had called to report a prowler. Murphy wrote in his police report that he was dispatched to check out a report of an “unwanted guest.”
John Robinson was at Wells’ house when Murphy pulled up. Robinson told the AJC his friend of 26 years had called him to be with her until the police arrived. Robinson lives 10 miles from Wells and her husband was in McRae, almost 90 miles away. According to Robinson, Wells and the police reports, the officer only asked Robinson how long he had known Wells, the status of their relationship and where he lived. Murphy asked nothing more, not even Robinson’s name.Moments later Robinson left. Murphy wrote he let the man leave because it is best to separate people in domestic violence situations.“I could always arrest him later if I needed to since he lived nearby,” Murphy wrote in a report obtained by the AJC.
But Wells and Robinson said there was no violence and nothing to suggest there had been any. As Robinson pulled out of the driveway, Murphy asked Wells for her friend’s name. She refused to give it. “’You don’t need to know that,’” Murphy wrote in his report was Wells’ response. “I told her that she would need to give me the information that I needed or she would be arrested for obstruction. I explained that state law mandates that we investigate to determine if there has been any family violence.” She retrieved her purse and began walking around the side of her house until Murphy said he was taking her to jail.
“Janice then backed up from me in a fight or flight stance and I grabbed her arm and placed a handcuff on it,” Murphy wrote. “She pulled away and she took off. I sprayed her with pepper spray. I chased her around the house and tripped and fell, injuring my knee just as I caught up with her. As I was once again walking her to the car, she broke loose again and ran. She tripped and fell and I grabbed her again. As we got to the car, I attempted to get the other handcuff on her and get her in the car.”
Wells told the AJC, she finally stopped. “I fell to the ground. I was balled up and I was begging him to leave me alone,” Wells said. “Then he called for help.” Smith answered Murphy’s call for backup. In his report, Smith wrote he was concerned for Murphy’s welfare because his voice was weak. “[He] sound[ed] as if he could barely talk,” Smith wrote.The camera recorded images of Smith’s short drive down a two-lane road, but once he got within sight of the Wells’ clapboard house, the dash cam also began recording sound. As Smith pulled up, the video showed, Murphy was leaning on the roof of his car and a side door was open. He appeared to be talking to Wells, who was “in a ball position facing the ground,” according to Smith’s report.
Smith, 22, said nothing as he strode to the side of the car, his Taser in hand.Then came the sound of the electric buzz of the Taser and Wells screaming “Oh God! Oh God!”“Get in the car! Get in the car! Get in the car! You gonna get it again,” Smith screamed. Wells cried. In seconds the sound of the Taser can be heard again.“Don’t do it. Don’t do it. I ain’t gonna do nothing,” Wells pleaded. Smith is heard threatening a more aggressive setting on his Taser.
And then he used it again.
“It felt like electricity going through your body,” Wells said. “He was tasing me so fast and I was asking them to stop. To me, it was like it was a dream.” Murphy’s report says Smith used his Taser three times.Smith said he probably discharged the Taser three or four times for a total of six seconds. One of those times, he shocked himself.
The sound from the video suggests he discharged the device at least four times. Wells’ attorney, Gary Parker, said it may have been as many as 12 times. Parker said no decision has been made on filing a lawsuit but he is talking with local officials about a resolution.
After hearing about the calls to Wells’ house, a woman he had known for years, the sheriff got to the house just as she was shocked for the last time. He said he could hear her screams as he pulled up.“Larry, help me,” Wells said as the sheriff walked up. “Larry, I didn’t do nothing.” Jones said, “It took my best to hold my composure.”
On the video, Jones can be heard softly reassuring Wells. Later that night, Jones bonded Wells out of jail and drove her to an area hospital to be examined.He watched the video from the dash camera later.“It was worse than what I thought it was. I was shocked,” the sheriff told the AJC.”The public needs to know.”