Wednesday, July 13, 2005
BARNETT WRIGHT and CAROL ROBINSON
News staff writers
From The Birmingham News
Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid on Tuesday ordered Birmingham police officers to halt the use of Tasers, saying more studies are needed on the impact of the stun guns.
The mayor's order came days after a 41-year-old McCalla man died in the Birmingham City Jail, hours after he was hit by a Taser and sprayed with Mace.
Rockey Bryson, a mechanic and father of two who was jailed on a DUI charge, was found dead in his cell about 3:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 12 hours after corrections officers used the electric stun gun to subdue him during a confrontation in his cell.
Kincaid insisted the Taser moratorium wasn't in response to Bryson's death, saying only he wanted to further study the stun gun issue, which has stirred nationwide debate over the safety of the devices.
The timing of Kincaid's order coincided with Bryson's family saying Bryson was mistreated in the city jail and suffered an unnecessary death. Bryson and a brother, Randy Bryson, were arrested July 3 on alcohol-related charges.
"If Rockey had been allowed a phone call, he'd be alive today," said another brother, Rayme Bryson.
The mayor's moratorium outraged police officers.
"There are so many instances where without the Tasers we would have had to escalate all the way up to using lethal force, our sidearms," Sgt. Allen Treadaway, the police union president, said. "It saves lives. I would hope that our elected officials would trust our chief and her staff."
Birmingham Police Chief Annetta Nunn, when asked if she supported the mayor's decision, said, "I understand that he is the commander in chief and the head of the city and the ultimate person responsible for the city. I feel certain that after he has the opportunity to fully evaluate the information we will be allowed to use the weapons again."
Nunn estimated that about 135 Tasers are part of the force, but not all are deployed. Some are in stock, she said.
As of March, Nunn said Tuesday, her officers had used the Tasers 137 times since adding them to their arsenal last year. The use of the stun gun stopped deadly outcomes, Nunn said.
"The option is no longer there," she said. "We had an instance where a person was about to commit suicide and we were able to stop them with the use of a Taser."
In an Amnesty International report late last year, the group said 70 people had died in the United States and Canada after being shocked by the devices. Taser International officials say the stun guns have never caused a death or injury; fatalities that follow the gun's use are better attributed to other factors such as drug use or existing health problems. Efforts to reach Taser officials Tuesday for comments on Bryson's death were unsuccessful.
Report not finished:
An autopsy report is not complete in the Bryson case.
"There is no indication his death was directly due to being Tased," said Jay Glass, Jefferson County's chief deputy coroner. "Not even indirectly."
Bryson was shot with the stun gun more than 12 hours before he was found dead, Glass said, and he had been checked out at Cooper Green Hospital and cleared to be returned to jail.
Bryson had underlying heart disease and a history of alcoholism, Glass said.
Randy Bryson, who was released on bail after his brother's death, told family members they were held in horrid conditions and weren't allowed to make a telephone call.
Police said Rockey Bryson was hit with the Taser after he tried to escape while a jail nurse checked on him.
The family disagrees that Bryson tried to escape and says he was hit 20 to 30 times with the stun gun. They said they had to bury him in a long-sleeve shirt because of visible damage to his arms.
The police chief said a computer chip inside the Taser will tell how many times it was fired, but said she didn't yet have that information.
Relatives said they didn't know of any heart problems with Bryson, but acknowledged he was an alcoholic. "The family doesn't claim these boys were angels or saints," Rayme Bryson said. "They'd been in trouble before because of drinking.
"I don't care if he was the worst drunk in the history of Birmingham, he didn't deserve how he was treated in the Birmingham City Jail."
The family has not filed a complaint with the police department, Nunn said.
I am very impressed by this BRAVE move by Mayor Kincaid. A few months back he barred school resource officers from using tasers in their school patrols and caught a lot of flack. As to this comment,
"There are so many instances where without the Tasers we would have had to escalate all the way up to using lethal force, our sidearms," Sgt. Allen Treadaway, the police union president, said. "It saves lives."....
Hey Sarge this guy is dead....if that isn't lethal force I am not sure what is.
My deepest sympathies to the Bryson family. Those brothers in trouble for drinking remind me of my own two brothers who something like this could eaisly happen to.
I'll be keeping a very close eye on this one.