Taser Torture as Summary Punishment for “Non-Compliance”

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The official rationale for issuing Tasers to police officers is that the electro-shock devices represent a “non-lethal” alternative to the use of a firearm in dealing with situations that threaten the life or safety of an officer or innocent bystanders.

In practical terms, however, the Taser — which is proving to be a reliably lethal weapon — has become an instrument of “pain compliance.” In unadorned terms, this is summary punishment through torture for those who pose no threat to anyone, but who refuse to cooperate instantly with orders issued to them by police officers.

The recent arrest of 72-year-old Austin grandmother Kathryn Winkfein, who was assaulted with a Taser during a traffic stop, illustrates this perfectly.

After a police officer stopped Mrs. Winkfein for allegedly driving 60 in a 45 MPH zone, the grandmother refused to sign the ticket stub. Under Texas “law,” motorists are required to sign traffic tickets under threat of arrest.
According to the police officer, Mrs. Winkfein not only refused to comply, but she “swore” and became “violent” with him. Palsied with terror over the threat posed by a frail septuagenarian woman, the officer hit her with a blast from his Taser. Mrs. Winkfein disputes every element of the official account, and intends to file a lawsuit.

Mrs. Winkfein might be encouraged by the $40,000 settlement reached between the State of Utah and Jared Massey, who suffered a Taser assault at the hands of Utah Highway Patrolman Jon Gardner during a 2007 traffic stop.

Massey refused to accept the traffic ticket. Under Utah law, he didn’t have to; Trooper Gardner could simply have shrugged his shoulders and mailed it to Massey. But following that approach would mean that Gardner had failed to compel a “mundane” to submit to his Authoritah:

In this dashcam recording taken from Gardner’s cruiser, it’s important to note how — beginning at roughly 11 seconds into the video — we see Gardner pull over to the side of the road, thereby obstructing Massey’s view of the sign announcing the speed limit of 40 MPH. After Massey passed, Gardner pulls him over almost instantaneously.

At that time Gardner pulled over, Massey was not speeding, and Gardner had no reason to pull over — unless he wanted to manufacture a traffic stop by preventing the motorist from seeing the speed limit sign.

Massey, who didn’t see the sign, was understandably outraged by Gardner’s asinine stunt, and his mood didn’t improve when the tax-feeder threatened his pregnant wife.

Predictably enough, the UHP ruled that Gardner’s unnecessary use of the reliably lethal Taser against Massey was “justified” — despite the fact that Massey was merely uncooperative, not “threatening,” and despite the fact that Massey had no legal obligation to accept the ticket from Gardner.

In a tacit admission that Gardner acted improperly by needlessly escalating the confrontation, the Utah state police did place him on administrative leave and ordered him to undergo anger management training.

Of particular interest in the Massey case was the reaction of the Provo Daily Herald newspaper, for which I wrote a weekly (then bi-weekly) column a couple of decades ago, long before its descent into unalloyed statism.

“Here’s a tip: when a uniformed man with a badge and a gun tells you to do something, shut up and do exactly what he says,” opined the Herald, which serves the reddest community in “Red-State” America. A more suitable example of the martial law mind-set would be difficult to find.

2:00 am on June 3, 2009