Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tasers and gasoline don't mix

Note to police officers: If you just saw a man pour gasoline on himself and splash it onto your partner, don't Taser him or you'll turn the scene into a bonfire. That's what happened in San Angelo where a suspect who'd doused himself with gas was burned alive.

This seems pretty basic: Sparks and gasoline don't mix. Uh ... Duh!

I'm not for banning Tasers, as some have proposed, but let's use some common sense, folks.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

a cop using common sense,,ha ha,,get real

Anonymous said...

The man was uncooperative and a danger to himself and others, the police had no choice on what to use in such short notice. He was most likely going to die anyway.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"no choice"? Tasers have existed for less than ten years and crazy people have been attempting suicide a lot longer than that, so I'm not sure I buy that they had "no choice." There are other options on the force continuum available to officers.

Maybe he would have died anyway, as you say, but the decision to use a device with an electric charge in a situation involving gasoline, you have to admit, wasn't particularly clever.

Anonymous said...

They really didn't have no other choice. Pepper Spray proved ineffective, and he reportedly also had a lighter on his person, which he couldve used at any moment towards the gasoline he poured on himself and around his area.Tackling him down with the ensuing struggle would have turned out worse. The officer with the taser did not think about the consequences from using it, which was a huge mistake, but in situations like these, you have to think and act very fast in order to save more lives.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's fair, with the caveat that in this case the quick decision making cost someone his life.

Also, the news reports I've seen so far didn't say the lighter was "on his person," but "found at the scene." That said, in my experience initial news coverage of such events is often poor and ill-informed, and it will take a while for accurate details to come out.

Even so, since you agree in retrospect that using the Taser was a "huge mistake," and not blaming the officer at all but judging from 20/20 hindsight, what do you think would have been a more effective course of action that might have led to a better outcome?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you have to take a life to save a life. The lives of the suspect, officers, and bystanders were at risk, and sometimes you can't save them all.

In all honesty, I think it would've been more appropriate to use a gun, but under these circumstances with the gasoline and the unpredictability of something like this, there really couldn't have been a better outcome. It is a very unfortunate situation, but sometimes events like these happen. To quote the Lieutenant,

"It was a deadly force situation, and by law, we were authorized to use deadly force” Monday afternoon, Milbourn said.

"Had the officer chosen to use a gun to contain the situation, the flash point of the gun and the friction of the bullet also could have ignited the gasoline," Milbourn said. Milbourn stressed that it is still unknown whether it was the Taser that ignited Johnny Lopez


I live in San Angelo, so I have been following this very closely, here are some articles on it, some things are more explained, but we won't know until there is an official accurate report from the authorities with both witness and officer accounts.

http://gosanangelo.com/news/2007/jun/19/man-ignites-dispute/

http://gosanangelo.com/news/2007/jun/19/breaking-news---man-burned-dispute-dies/

http://gosanangelo.com/news/2007/jun/20/burns-kill-man-taser-use-probed/

http://gosanangelo.com/news/2007/jun/20/breaking-news---names-officers-involved-death-rele/

Anonymous said...

Milbourn said. "It was a deadly force situation, and by law, we were authorized to use deadly force"


No matter how incompetent or under trained the police officer is, the governemnet gives authority to the officer to kill citizens.

I would feel safer if the cops just stuck to what there good at and that's writing tickets to generate revenue for the state. It always makes me feel safe when I see a cop working radar.

Anonymous said...

"No matter how incompetent or under trained the police officer is, the governemnet gives authority to the officer to kill citizens."

Only in the defense of life.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks for the links to the clips. You're right about only using deadly force in defense of life. And I get that this was a tense situation, he's telling them there's a bomb inside, etc. I don't want to downplay at all the rotten set of options facing the officer.

But we can learn from this to help improve protocols for Taser use. The still unanswered questions from what I've read are whether the lighter was "on his person" or just on the premises, the corollary of whether the danger of lighting himself was imminent, and whether lighting himself really threatened "others" or just him.

In addition, this man had a history of mental illness and unstable behavior that the police knew about, according to the media accounts you provided. Does San Angelo PD train its officers to deal with mentally ill people or have a special unit to handle this population? I don't know. I hope the officers at the scene were well trained and knew what they were doing.

I can imagine a situation where some or all those questions were answered in the affirmative and I would agree deadly force was justified. But it's impossible to tell one way or the other, IMO, from the media coverage so far.

Finally, I'll add this - I can't imagine being the guy's sons and having the image in my mind for the rest of my life of the officer Tasering my father and watching him burst into flames. OMG. If there was a way to prevent that, I can hardly imagine a worse thing for someone to go through. best,

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said... "But we can learn from this to help improve protocols for Taser use."


The Texas government isn't concerned in protocols or training in the use of Tasers on it's citizens.

So to summarize: CLEAT considers it a good legislative year because they killed an independent police misconduct investigator, avoided any restrictions on Taser use or even required training. -Gritsforbreakfast

Anonymous said...

We have a few Mental Health Deputy's that are used in such cases concerning a troubled individual, but the police were the first on the scene and did not want to wait for him to come.

As for the immediate threat, it's not exactly sure, but it's more than likely as the man was pouring gasoline on himself and right around his area.

As for his family, I send my condolences to them, I am just questioning as to why they didn't try to get him help in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Forgot something, I've heard that whole incident was videotaped in one of the dashboard cameras of a police interceptor. Hopefully the rangers will be able to finally get the answers.

Anonymous said...

From my experience, San Angelo police don't have a clue about mental illness. They still act as if an individual with mental illness "decides" to behave the way they do. With that attitude, the police reaction is to "show the mentally ill "who's in charge".

This is a tragedy that could have been prevented with better training. The police are all too frequently mean spirited in this sort of situation because they don't know what else to do. It is a sad day when in the 22nd century, the answer to illness is "lock em up" and throw away the key.

I would like to express my sympathy to everyone involved in this horrible example of ignorance in police work.

whitsfoe said...

Now does everyone understand why I don't like this guy?

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/06/21/21whitmire.html

Anonymous said...

Maybe they could have requested a fire department pumper truck and dousing him with a blast of water! Or is this too much force? Those decisions are on the srur of the moment, WE weren't there. STOP blaming the police for the mental illness problem in this state. You as a voter have some responsibility for the sad state we are in do to a lack of funding for mental health institutions in the state of Texas. Be a part of the solution, not a Monday morning quarterback.

Anonymous said...

"This is a tragedy that could have been prevented with better training. The police are all too frequently mean spirited in this sort of situation because they don't know what else to do. It is a sad day when in the 22nd century, the answer to illness is "lock em up" and throw away the key.

I would like to express my sympathy to everyone involved in this horrible example of ignorance in police work. "

Since you are such an expert and the police are such idiots, how would YOU have handled this incident? It's easy to be critical behind a keyboard. I know it's hard but try to imagine the stress going on at the scene. Things happen fast and everyone is scared. Sorry if it wasn't a textbook ending but the police tried.

Once again, what would you have done?

Anonymous said...

"what would you have done"

Maybe waiting for the mental health pros to show up instead of trying to handle him themselves?

If he wasn't holding the lighter and there wasn't an immediate threat they could have tackled him.

Even shooting him wouldn't have risked igniting the house (where they thought there may be a bomb) or the officer splashed with gas.

Actually I kind of like the fire hose idea.

Also I agree with Grits that if these officers hadn't received training in dealing with mentally ill offenders then San Angelo should have all its officers undertake that training or maybe set policies that they wait and defer to those who have had it.

It's one thing to Monday Morning Quarterback, but it's also true that people who don't learn from mistakes are doomed to repeat them. There's room to both respect the difficult situation the officer was in and also understand this isn't the kind of result we want repeated very often.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

For the record, though it wouldn't have occurred to me, in that particular situation I like the fire hose idea, too!

Josh Berthume said...

What is the training protocol for Taser use, anyways? Is there a certification program or anything?

Anonymous said...

"Even shooting him wouldn't have risked igniting the house (where they thought there may be a bomb) or the officer splashed with gas."

"Had the officer chosen to use a gun to contain the situation, the flash point of the gun and the friction of the bullet also could have ignited the gasoline," Milbourn said. Milbourn stressed that it is still unknown whether it was the Taser that ignited Johnny Lopez

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Josh, there are no training protocols for Taser use unless the individual department requires it. The police unions shot down a bill that would require it this spring.

And for what it's worth, I personally doubt a bullet would have caused the guy to combust the way the Taser did. That's kind of a CYA comment from Milbourn and it's only PD spin doctors claiming there might be some other cause. The witnesses quoted appear to be in agreement the Taser shot caused Mr. Lopez to catch on fire. But all of us are speculating - the media coverage doesn't give enough informatin to answer these questions one way or another. We'll know soon enough what the Rangers say and what the video shows.

Did anybody else like the firehose idea?

Anonymous said...

Water does nothing for the fumes of gas.

Anonymous said...

I agree a gun would've been a better choice, as it only had a slight chance of igniting also.

UPDATE: Just saw a preview on the news of a patrol car, and what looks like to be damage and burns to the front of it. That's just fking ridiculous.

sunray's wench said...

not water, but foam would have been better. I have sympathy for the police because they are just mopping up a situation which should have been caught much earlier on, but using a taser was a bad call.

I'm a cop said...

"Maybe waiting for the mental health pros to show up instead of trying to handle him themselves?

If he wasn't holding the lighter and there wasn't an immediate threat they could have tackled him."

It's an easy thing to say wait for the "mental health pros" but it's not as clear cut as you think. People keep trying to say that about the Sofia King shooting but the simple fact is you don't always have the time. If you have someone deranged enough to splash gas on themselves, do you think they will just stand around waiting for more cops?

In addition, if he is that upset, no amount of talking will get him to calm down.

Quick war story:

I'm a cop and got called to a mentally ill person yelling and jumping up and down in the street. I got there and did everything I was taught. I talked softly and calmly to him. I reassured him that we were only there to help him. I didn't make any sudden or threatening movements and I respected his personal space.

The result? He started yelling about how he was going to kill me and he charged. I had to taser him. The entire thing lasted about two minutes. That's how fast things can go to shit.

Anonymous said...

http://gosanangelo.com/news/2007/jun/22/arson-suspected-police-patrol-car-fire/

Great...

Anonymous said...

A Cops Parent: Has anyone pointed out that he was in the act of torching his families home? Has anyone pointed out that he was a repeated felon? The Texas Rangers will clear the officers involved and the family will file a wrongful death suit...He was such a good man even if he was trying to kill us while we slept. Get Real! Nearly all of you jump to conclusions because you were made that way.

Anonymous said...

A Cops Parent: Has anyone pointed out that he was in the act of torching his families home? Has anyone pointed out that he was a repeated felon? The Texas Rangers will clear the officers involved and the family will file a wrongful death suit...He was such a good man even if he was trying to kill us while we slept. Get Real nearly all of you jump to conclusions because you were made that way.