Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More on the zapped grandma

In the wake of last week's story about the Tasering of 72-year-old Kathryn Winkfein by Travis County, Texas, Deputy Chris Bieze because she wouldn't sign a speeding ticket, I've heard from more than a few readers who want to dispute or clarify certain points I made about the case. Some of the notes have been helpful, others have been tendentious, but none have changed the fundamental issue: Police officers can't go around zapping little old ladies -- or anybody else -- with potentially dangerous doses of electricity because they won't touch pen to paper.

First, thanks to the folks who tell me that Texas law does, in fact, require that motorists sign their speeding tickets or get hauled off to jail. This distinguishes Texas law from the law in other states where signatures are sought by police officers, but not required by law.

"So, when the woman refused to sign the ticket," wrote one correspondent, "the officer had little choice but to place her under arrest."

Well ... maybe.

Here's the deal: Saying "the law made me do it" is a cop-out. The fact is, Tasering an old lady -- that is, shooting her with metal barbs and then running electricity through her body to disrupt her nervous system -- in order to effect her arrest for refusing to sign a speeding ticket that has already been issued is barbaric. The woman had committed only a traffic violation and posed no obvious threat to anybody's life, liberty or property. That this isn't exactly an obscure point is apparent from Precinct 3 Constable Richard McCain's rather lame defense of his deputy's action, saying Winkfein used profanity and grew combative.

Seriously, just walk away and let the ticket work its way through the courts. Maybe the letter of the law dictates otherwise, but the law doesn't absolve us of moral responsibility for our actions. If following the law in the most literal sense has horrible consequences, good sense says you exercise personal discretion. In fact, psychologists say that we're not fully mature until we get beyond the idea of the law as the final word and apply individual moral judgments.

But what about Winkfein's obstinate failure to follow the orders of a law-enforcement officer?

Look -- the idea that police officers are entitled to automatic deference is the sort of mindset you might expect in North Korea -- not in a free society. Police officers are just regular people with a job; they're no more entitled to expect immediate obedience in all circumstances than are dentists or house painters.

I say zapping Winkfein was "barbaric" because a Taser isn't a full-fledged substitute for a phaser set on stun. Some readers have taken issue with Amnesty International's claim that "[s]ince June 2001, more than 351 individuals in the United States have died after being shocked by police Tasers."

Fair enough. So what about the study released at a Heart Rhythm Society conference that said that Tasers can interfere with pacemakers (some older folks have those, you know)? Or what about the research paper prepared for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (PDF) that found that some Tasers give an even bigger jolt than intended, with resultingly higher risks to the proper function of the heart? Mutiple jolts from even properly functioning Tasers have been found to be lethal in some circumstances.

This isn't to say that Tasers are necessarily evil and should be banned. In their original role, as alternatives in situations that would otherwise require the use of a firearm, they have great promise. In a situation requiring officers to, for example, subdue a psychologically troubled person who is armed with a knife, a Taser is much more likely to leave everybody breathing at the end of the day than is a firearm. But it's a less-lethal device, not a non-lethal device, and shouldn't just be used on people who haven't dotted all the "I"s in some procedural requirement of the law.

Below is police dashcam video of the actual incident.

At the moment Deputy Bieze triggered his Taser, Winkfein was actually turning away from him, having said, "I'm getting back in my car."

Deputy Bieze had already threatened to use his Taser -- "Step back or you're going to be Tased." -- as the woman leaned against the rear of her truck.

Perhaps unwisely, but certainly unthreateningly, Winkfein replied, "I dare you."

Moments later, as Winkfein leaned against the tailgate of her truck with her arms crossed, Bieze threw what may have been his ticket book to the ground and grabbed the woman to handcuff her. She pulled her arm away and announced that she was returning to her car. Bieze shoves her. Winkfein turns away. And ... zap.


But some folks still defend Winkfein's Tasering because she dared to argue with a cop. Seriously, people who defend and even celebrate the brutal abuse of their fellow human beings because they do not "respect mah authoritah" reveal themselves for what they are. (Just back away from them, slowly.)



Blogger Johnny said...

Anyone who thinks this is acceptable deserves a good Tasering themselves - at the very least.

If it had been my mother I would be plotting ways right now to kidnap and murder that police officer... and I'd be planning for it to be a long drawn out process.

June 10, 2009 11:41 AM  
Blogger NomadRip said...

Did you edit out all that happened prior to that version of the video or is that the way you found it?

June 10, 2009 4:13 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

That's the only version I could find. If you have a link to a longer video, please point the way.

June 10, 2009 5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that lady got what she deserved! You do not mess with Texas (law enforement)! If that had been my mom or grandma, she could look forward to another tasing upon her arrival at home!

June 10, 2009 7:22 PM  
Anonymous the infamous oregon lawhobbit said...

"Seriously, people who defend and even celebrate the brutal abuse of their fellow human beings because they do not "respect mah authoritah" reveal themselves for what they are. (Just back away from them, slowly.)"

What's even more of a concern is that the basic attitude of those sorts is that they'd love a chance to inflict such barbarities themselves. Not being in a position to do so, they live vicariously through others' brutality and salve what little conscience they may have by saying things like "I think that lady got what she deserved!" It is a scary and sadistic disregard for the basic human rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness upon which this country was founded.*

*said whackjobs will also protest to no end that they are "supporting America," when in fact they are absolutely clueless about the place, other than that they live here.

June 11, 2009 7:40 AM  
Blogger akaGaGa said...

Setting aside the right and wrong of this for a second (but you know I'm in your corner, JD) has anybody mentioned that this cop is a major-league wimp?

He can't figure out how to arrest a 72-year-old grandmother without resorting to weapons? How does he arrest real criminals ... or does he run the other way?

I amend my previous statement. This guy's a brainless major-league wimp.

June 11, 2009 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the police person is a coward and a bully and probably, if he thinks at all, a sadist/psychopathic personality. The only explanation for what he did has to be this.

There is a moral component to this. Those that can't see that are morally and ethically deficient.

June 11, 2009 6:57 PM  
Blogger PlanetaryJim said...

I think the cop should be killed. By anyone who chooses to do so.

Any cop who assaults anyone, except another cop, should be killed. Promptly.

This business of backing slowly away is obviously not going to work.

"And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say goodbye to his family?" wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

If there are no consequences for police brutality, it will get worse. The consequences must be immediate and severe.

June 13, 2009 3:04 AM  
Blogger Ayn R. Key said...

My definition of a good cop includes the cop having to arrest bad cops. As long as this particular scumbag is still serving there are no good cops in his department.

June 14, 2009 11:51 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home