Usually when one thinks of New England, one thinks of the seat of the War of Independence and home of states that value personal freedom and independence above virtually all else. After all, New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free or Die.” This was where the very idea of peaceful civil disobedience was born in the U.S.
So when a police officer in Barre, Vermont (population: 9,291) decided that a woman with mental illness wasn’t moving to comply with his requests, he decided to arrest her. And when the woman still wasn’t moving to allow herself to be arrested, Cpl. Henry Duhaime of the Barre (Vt) Police Department apparently decided to pull out his Taser, instead of his radio to call for backup.
Was the woman a coked up drug addict trying to fight off the police officer? Nope, the woman was a 58-year-old senior citizen who happened to be homeless and have a mental illness. She could be someone’s mother or grandmother. Her crime? Keeping her arms folded in front of herself, refusing to move, and then refusing to be arrested.
Henry Duhaime then went ahead and allegedly tased the woman multiple times. It seems apparent from the report below that Duhaime allegedly became incensed because the Taser failed to work the first time and the woman began laughing at him. So he allegedly used the Taser again and again, until she complied with being arrested. If this sounds like something out of the old Soviet Russia, well, you wouldn’t be far from the truth:
Osborn kept her arms crossed, according to the report, prompting Duhaime to unholster his Taser. As had previously been reported, Osborn responded by saying: “Give me a thrill.” Duhaime then fired the Taser, but claimed the probes did not penetrate Osborn’s jacket and the woman doubled over laughing.
According to the report, that’s when things escalated.
“… I could see that this was not getting any results so I pulled out the cartridge and went for a drive stun to Osborn’s left thigh,” Duhaime wrote in the report that was presented to the council. “This did have some affect and she screamed a little bit and went down on her buttocks, in the shrub area, next to the store at which time the Taser slipped off her thigh.”
According to Duhaime’s account that is when Osborn, who was struggling to get up, “took a swing” at his knee and missed.
“… Before Osborn could get up I was able to apply a second drive stun to her right thigh,” he wrote. “This again kept her down and she began to scream. I advised her to roll over and place her hands behind her back, which she did and the Taser came off her leg losing contact again.
“Now Osborn was still screaming without the Taser being on her, and would still not put her hands behind her back,” he continued. “I again applied the drive stun to the back of her left thigh. Osborn finally complied, put her hands behind her back at which time I was able to get the handcuffs on her and take her into custody.”
The woman’s crime in this small town?
Standing outside the local Cumberland Farms. It’s not clear why she was being asked to leave the property in the first place.
Apparently the officers have little regard for history in their own backyard as well:
“There’s a tradition in this country that goes back to Henry David Thoreau and it’s called non-violent civil disobedience and it’s woven into the fabric of this country,” Edward Stanak [a town resident] said. “I’m more than a little bit concerned now that there’s a perspective that it … might have been okay to users Tasers in Selma, Alabama because those people (civil rights activists) weren’t ‘passively resistant.’”
Unbelievably, rather than apologize for Duhaime’s aggressive behavior toward an elderly town resident, Police Chief Timothy Bombardier defended his officer’s actions. “Bombardier defended Duhaime, reiterating his belief that his actions did not violate the policy, or injure Osborn.”
The City of Barre’s town council met to discuss the issue and seems to, thankfully, understand that Barre, Vermont is not like a crime-ridden neighborhood in an inner city. And frankly, if the town’s Police Chief Bombardier doesn’t understand why this incident was so wrong on so many different levels, he should resign.
Tasers are potentially-deadly weapons, according to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), that should only be used on people actively exhibiting aggression and should not be used on passive subjects. A woman standing still, with her arms folded in front of her, sounds pretty passive to me. So when a police officer isn’t getting satisfaction, does turning them into a “resisting arrest” subject then justify their use of a Taser (even when the woman’s actions have not changed, and she may not have the capacity to make informed judgments)?
This is another example of where the worst kind of assumptions are made about a person who is homeless or mentally ill, rather than showing some common sense, compassion and understanding for a fellow citizen. If Duhaime was really concerned for his own well-being, he should have simply called for another officer’s assistance (which, ironically, was literally a block away).
Duhaime should apologize to the woman, and Bombardier should apologize to the City of Barre and its residents for the inhumane treatment of this senior citizen.
Read the full article: Taser use questioned.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Mar 2010
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2010). Woman with Mental Illness Tasered for Refusing to Move. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/03/17/mentally-ill-old-woman-tasered-for-refusing-to-move/