“Officer Safety” and Tazering Granny

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An all-encompassing obsession with “officer safety” is the most prominent aspect of Officer Thomas Duran’s official “reporting narrative” of the December 22, 2009 incident in which bedridden 86-year-old Lona Varner was shot twice with a Taser.

Duran’s attitude contrasts sharply with that of Varner’s adult grandson, Lonnie Tinsley, who — while Duran was keeping his distance and calling for backup — attempted to relieve his agitated grandmother of the kitchen knife she had retrieved from beneath her pillow.

Tinsley had called 911 out of concern that Varner, who is blind in one eye and confined to bed following a series of strokes, had overdosed on unknown medications. He requested help from an EMT. When Duran arrived, according to the officer’s account, Tinsley advised him that “I don’t think she wants you in there.”

Duran ignored that warning, barging uninvited into the home and — predictably — making a bad situation even worse.

According to Duran, Varner reacted to his presence by telling him to “Get the f*** out of here.” This was the second time the police officer had been instructed to leave Varner’s home. When he refused to comply, Varner reached below her pillow. In response, Duran “backed up and bladed my self around the corner for cover,” as the elderly lady grabbed a kitchen knife.

While Duran sent out a plea for armed assistance, Tinsley “kept trying to advance on Varner to get the knife. I had to tell Lonnie numerous times to back away and to not approach Varner. I tried talking to Varner and calm her down but nothing would work.”

It should be noted that Duran didn’t try one thing that quite likely would have worked: De-escalating the situation and allowing Tinsley to relieve his grandmother of the kitchen knife.

Duran, once again, had exacerbated the problem by defying two clear orders to leave the property, as his own account documents. Varner “told me she was in control of her life and I could not do anything to stop her,” Duran narrates. “She looked me in the eyes and said, `If you try to 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.”

Tinsley and Varner both deny that the elderly woman made threats of any kind. However, it’s important to recognize that if there is any truth to Duran’s version, this “threat” was directed solely at him; she didn’t object to the presence of her grandson, or his efforts to help her.

“At this time,” writes Duran, “I was in fear for the safety of Lonnie, Varner and myself. I maintained my location and waited additional units” — thereby making it all but certain that the situation would be resolved through unnecessary, and therefore criminal, violence.

When two additional officers arrived (Tinsley and Varner insist that at least ten police officers eventually thronged to the home), Varner “took a more aggressive posture on the bed,” Duran relates. The elderly woman reportedly brandished the kitchen knife and warned, “If you come any closer your [sic] getting the knife.”

Having “exhausted attempts at verbally getting Varner to comply,” Duran used his Taser, which mis-fired. One of his comrades, Officer Sandberg, shot Varner with his Taser, which operated as expected and “rendered Varner incapable of any further aggressive action.”

To this point, Varner had not engaged in what reasonable people would call “aggressive” action. Even if one assumes that the feeble invalid were capable of using the knife to injure Duran or the other officers, she was acting in a defensive manner. True to the martial law mind-set that defines contemporary police work, Duran apparently perceives a refusal to cooperate as “aggression.”

Tinsley was “detained” after he “tried to interfere with Officers” when they assaulted his grandmother with their portable electro-shock torture devices, according to Duran’s report. While being conveyed to the hospital by EMTs, the grandmother “made several statements of killing the police,” Duran writes. “Varner told me 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.”

Once again, Varner denies making such threats, and Tinsley also disputes that claim. Taking Duran’s version at face value, furthermore, would merely underscore the fact that the police had no business interfering in this matter: Varner wasn’t objecting to help, she was reacting to the uninvited, unjustified intrusion by agents of state coercion for whom “officer safety” is the paramount consideration.

Lonnie Tinsley was willing to risk his physical safety to help his grandmother; Duran and his fellow officers subjected her to potentially lethal risks in order to protect themselves.

8:47 am on June 29, 2010
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