Utah taser incident triggers debate and death threats

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

A taser, although this is an M26 military-grade taser, the one used by trooper Gardner probably looked similar

On September 14, 2007, Jared Massey was pulled over by Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) trooper John Gardner for speeding on U.S. Route 40 near Vernal in Utah, United States. Trooper Gardner issued a citation which Massey refused to sign. After some debate about where the sign posting the speed limit was, trooper Gardner asked Massey to step out of his vehicle.

Massey, a 28-year-old telephone company employee, appears in the video to be under the impression that he and the officer would walk back to the nearby traffic sign. Trooper Gardner appears to be under a different impression. He orders Massey, who is still pointing at the sign, to stop and then draws his taser at Massey. Massey turns and begins to walk back toward his vehicle, turning his head toward Gardner, who is now behind Massey. Massey says, "what the heck are you doing?" and Gardner orders him to "turn around and put your hands behind your back." Massey does not and replies, "what the heck is wrong with you?" Shortly after, Gardner fires his taser.

Allegedly, Gardner triggers the electrodes a second time while Massey is on the ground, but this is not entirely clear from the video. Massey's wife emerges from the vehicle, clearly distraught, but Gardner orders her to return to the vehicle under threat of "going to jail, too."

Massey filed a complaint against the UHP and obtained the video footage, which was recorded from the trooper's vehicle, in a public records request under the process of discovery.

On November 19, Massey posted the video on YouTube, when he felt that the UHP's internal investigation was not progressing. "There's been no response, no action, no notifying us 'Hey, we're looking at this'," Massey told Vernal Express. "To us it seems like they're stonewalling it; trying to brush it under the rug so that nothing would happen."

The posting on YouTube encourages people to call the UHP and express their displeasure. However, many have posted online death-threats against the trooper.

This is an unintended consequence, says Massey. "I wish people would have some common decency every once in awhile [sic]," he said in an interview with Fox on Monday. "When I posted the video it wasn't to vilify the guy, demean him or destroy him, and that's one of the things I hate about this."

"I wish people would realize and think about this: Trooper Gardner is a real person, he's got a real family. Real lives are being affected," he added.

Under Utah law, one has to sign a citation to acknowledge receipt, whether or not one protests its validity.

The stated purpose of the taser is for it to be used under circumstances where use of lethal force would be the alternative. However, its use by police departments, in cases where non-lethal force would normally be used (pre-taser era), has resulted in some deaths, thereby leading the use of the device to be controversial.


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