More on Tazering Granny, and Similar Atrocities

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Lona Varner, the 86-year-old grandmother who was shot twice with a Taser after 10 police officers swarmed her apartment last December 22, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and reportedly told the police that she wanted to die, reported the El Reno Tribune.

According to El Reno Police Chief Ed Brown, Varner– who was confined to a bed and tethered to an oxygen tank — ordered the police to leave. She then reportedly grabbed a kitchen knife and stated that “She was in control of her life.”

It was this “aggressive” gesture that supposedly made it necessary for the police to cut off the elderly woman’s oxygen supply and shoot her twice with a Taser.

Varner’s grandson, Lonnie Tinsley, had called 911 hoping that an EMT would be sent to evaluate his grandmother. In a lawsuit filed against the city Tinsley claims that police threatened to shoot him with a Taser and detained him in a police car when he objected to the tactics used to subdue the bed-ridden octogenarian.

The police account claims that Varner expressed a desire to die. Yet the stated purpose of using the Taser was to protect the officers, not the allegedly suicidal elderly woman.

Granted, the officers would have confronted an element of risk if they had used other tactics to disarm Varner. However, there were at least ten of them — and, presumably, police are paid to deal with risks of that kind. Mr. Tinsley, who wasn’t armed, certainly believed it was possible to render aid to his grandmother without electrocuting or asphyxiating her (or possibly incinerating her, given that the spark-emitting Taser was being operated near an oxygen machine).

The El Reno case is quite similar to another episode from last December involving the use of a Taser by police to subdue a mentally ill senior citizen. About a week before the incident in El Reno, 62-year-old  Linda Hicks was shot to death by Officer Diane Chandler in a Toledo, Ohio group home.

The manager called the police for help after Hicks, who was also diagnosed with schizophrenia, threatened her own life with a pair of sewing scissors.  When Chandler and her partner arrived, Hicks was lying in bed.

The officers used a Taser on Hicks when she refused to remove her arms from beneath a pillow; in fact, the officers were close enough to use the device in “drive-stun” mode, which involves placing it directly against the subject’s body.

After the Taser misfired, Hicks allegedly threatened the officers with the pair of sewing scissors she had concealed. Rather than immobilizing Hicks — using pillows and other bedding as a shield, if necessary — Officer Chandler shot her four times at point-blank range. The Toledo PD’s Firearms Review Board later ruled that this shooting was fully justified.

The police killing of 47-year-old Prairie Village, Kansas woman Susan L. Stuckey presents another example in this same tragic vein. Stuckey, who reportedly suffered from psychological problems, refused to allow the police into her home last March when the officers arrived on the pretext of a “safety check.”  In fact, as Captain Timothy Schwartzkopf later admitted, the police had planned to take Stuckey into custody and have her involuntarily admitted to a hospital for a psych evaluation.

Around 9:45 a.m., after  SWAT team was called in, a neighbor heard Stuckey exclaim, “Please kill me.” Her “protectors” obliged by shooting her at least twice. The official story is that she  posed a “threat” to the police — at least a dozen armed men, many in body armor. Although the police claim Stuckey had a weapon, an independent witness says that she was “armed” with a broomstick.

Yes, there are risks and challenges involved in dealing with troubled people in such circumstances. But the worst way to “help” someone in such cases is to invite the intervention of armed strangers for whom “officer safety” is the highest priority.

UPDATE —

Officer Thomas Duran, who ordered the Taser attack on Lona Varner, claimed that the 86-year-old woman — who is confined to a bed and blind in one eye following a series of strokes — threatened his life: “If you try and get the knife I will stab you and kill you. I killed four Japs in World War II and I would not bat an eye killing you.”

Duran also claims that after Varner was taken to the hospital she told him that ” she was going to kill every officer that was in her apartment when she got out. Varner told me she was going to snap my neck like a twig just like she did during World War II.” (Varner served as a civilian medical volunteer in the Pacific during the war with Japan.)

Both Varner and her grandson admit that she ordered the police to leave — which she was well within her rights to do — but deny that she threatened to kill them. Lonnie Tinsley, Varner’s grandson, insists that “she didn’t say anything like that at all in her apartment … there was [sic] never any threats to the cops.”

Even if Varner did make threats of some kind, it’s difficult to believe that an enfeebled 86-year-old woman who requires a respirator to breathe and a walker to move around her apartment posed a legitimate threat to the gallant and intrepid men of the El Reno Police Department.

(Note: There is some controversy over the proper term for the use of electroshock torture by police: Is it “tazing,” “tasing,” “tazering,” or “tasering”? The title above is derived from the expression “Don’t taze my granny!” as used in the El Reno lawsuit.)

9:12 am on June 26, 2010