Reuters dropped a bombshell report on Tasor usage in United States prisons yesterday, and it focused on incidents in Franklin County Jail.
Serious warning, this is upsetting reading:
Reuters documents 104 prisoner fatalities after corrections officers deployed Tasers, often with other force. Most inmates were unarmed, and many were handcuffed or pinned to the ground. Some abuses, experts say, are akin to torture.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Corporal Matthew Stice pointed his Taser at Martini Smith’s bare chest.
Smith was 20 years old, pregnant and stripped nearly naked, standing in a cell in the Franklin County jail in Columbus, Ohio. She had been detained on charges of stabbing a boyfriend she’d accused of beating her. Stice and a deputy had ordered her to disrobe, take off all jewelry and don a prison gown. But she hadn’t been able to obey one command – remove the silver stud from her tongue.
“Take the tongue ring out,” Deputy Shawnda Arnold said. Smith continued struggling to unscrew the ring, inserting fingers from both hands into her mouth. No luck. Her fingers were numb, she protested: She had been cuffed for six hours with her hands behind her back.
“I will Tase you,” Stice said. The ring was slippery, Smith said, asking for a paper towel. The deputies refused. “I just want to go to sleep,” Smith cried.
Stice warned her again, then fired. The Taser’s electrified darts struck Smith’s chest; she collapsed against the concrete wall and slid to the floor, gasping, arms over her breasts.
Smith was pregnant and miscarried days later.
The U.N. special rapporteur on torture is calling for an investigation into this incident (and others) and for good reason: nothing happened to anyone involved.
Smith was one of dozens of incidents at the Franklin County Jail reviewed by Reuters. The Franklin County Sheriff’s office says they cannot comment at this time.
The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office says that the defendants’ lawyers didn’t press charges and that the U.S. Department of Justice did not recommend criminal charges. Szep says the DOJ hasn’t gotten back to him.
“The decision on whether there should be a criminal investigation is, really, ultimately up to the prosecutor’s office in Franklin County,” Szep says.
And as far as Szep knows, the officers shown in the Ohio footage that Reuters published have not been punished.
“There’s been no consequences at the Franklin County jail facilities,” Szep says. “We had video of 19 of those incidents, five of those incidents involved one particular guard. That guard has been, as far as we’re aware, has been promoted rather than disciplined.”
That differs from other jails around the country, where guards involved in taser-related abuse have lost their jobs, and, in at least one case, faced criminal charges.
There was a lawsuit filed over Franklin County Jail Tasor usage in July of 2010.
- The lawsuit was settled in February of 2011 between the Department of Justice and Franklin County Jail.
- Former Sheriff Jim Karnes released a statement following the settlement and said his office “steadfastly denies any and all allegations of any excessive, gratuitous or tortuous use of the Taser within the correctional facilities; and there has been no determination made that any use of a Taser has been inappropriate or unconstitutional.”
There is video of Martini Smith getting Tased. You can view it here, on the Reuters report mentioned above.
Watch it. See if you agree with Karnes’ statement that there was no excessive or gratuitous use of the Taser.
The two questions I’m left with:
How are Tasors being used in Franklin County Jail today?
and, perhaps more importantly:
Why do Franklin County Jail employees need Tasors at all?