Blackwell stands by officer's Taser use in OTR robbery

'They acted bravely'

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said he stands by an officer's use of a Taser gun on a 48-year-old robbery suspect who died immediately after the encounter.

"Our officers acted reasonably, professionally and according to training," he said. "They acted bravely."

At about 10 p.m. Monday, two Cincinnati police officers were driving through Over-the-Rhine in a marked cruiser when they heard people yelling frantically at a Shell gas station, Blackwell said. When the two officers got to the station, they encountered a woman who was being robbed and assaulted.

The victim was being punched, choked and bitten by a man through the window of her car, Blackwell said. She had just withdrawn money from an ATM at the gas station.

Blackwell and Cincinnati Police Capt. Mike John said the two officers warned the suspect, whom they identified as John Carney III. After several warnings, one officer deployed a Taser gun.

Blackwell said Carney showed no effect following the first round of shocks from the Taser. When the initial shock was recycled, and the wires already attached to Carney were re-charged by the gun, he continued to "actively assault" the female victim as she sat in her car, Blackwell said.

Blackwell said Carney fell unconscious while he was hanging halfway through the victim's car window. He was unresponsive and wedged between the car and the ATM machine.

The two officers had to physically move the car away from the wall to pull Carney, still unresponsive, out of the window. They began administering CPR while they waited for an ambulance.

Cincinnati Police Capt. Michael John said Carney died at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.



Blackwell and John referenced Carney's criminal record in a news conference Tuesday, but Blackwell said they "chose not to display that today because we didn't want the perception to be that we wanted to justify his death."

Public records obtained by WCPO show that Carney, born Jan. 16, 1967, has been charged multiple times for drug possession, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, domestic violence, assault, robbery, sexual battery, and one count of rape. Carney was in prison for three years for robbery and sexual battery convictions.

John said one prong of the Taser struck Carney in the abdomen, and it was not immediately clear where the other prong struck him.

Blackwell concurred at Tuesday's news conference and said Cincinnati Police officers are taught to not hit suspects with a Taser gun near the chest. The Taser used was a newly-purchased model, an X-26 P, Blackwell said, but does not have a camera.

The use of Taser cameras is something CPD is considering, Blackwell said, but with recent changes to body camera procedure, the department first needs to fully develop policies for storing the large video files.

The victim didn't suffer any major injuries, police said. She was distraught and "very very scared," John said, but she is "very thankful for the officers' actions."

"The officers witnessed a female being actively robbed and assaulted, screaming for help," Blackwell said. "They didn't know if the suspect had a weapon. The officers did their jobs according to training."

Officer Anthony White and Phillip Van Cleve are the two officers who arrived at the scene Monday night, Blackwell said. White is the officer who deployed the Taser. Records show that White has received four commendations since 2008.

Blackwell said the decision to use a Taser was the right call on the part of the officers.

"We were discussing, if this was 1988 or 1990, what we would have done in the same situation? If (Tasers) weren't available?" he said. "Back then, we didn't have an intermediate tool like this. But now we know that Tasers save lives."

Tasers are a "less lethal" use of force used to subdue combative suspects who resist arrest; they work by shooting two small prongs -- attached to the weapon by wire -- into the suspect's body, stunning the person with a powerful electrical charge and causing them to lose muscle control.

The Cincinnati Police Department Procedure Manual provides specific guidelines for Taser use:

"When properly used, the TASER generates an electrical current that dominates the existing neuromuscular and sensory nervous system. Subjects become physically incapacitated and unable to control muscle movement, allowing officers to gain control.

"The TASER may be used in situations where time and conditions permit. It can be an extremely effective control device for close range incapacitation.

"When deploying a cartridge from the TASER, frontal shots are prohibited except in situations of self-defense or defense of another. The TASER should never be aimed at an individual’s head, neck, eyes, throat, chest/breast, or genitals. The preferred target area is the back of the individual actively resisting arrest. The TASER should never be deployed on an individual operating a moving vehicle.

"In rare circumstances, there have been medical concerns raised about TASER barbs deployed to the chest region causing sudden cardiac arrest. According to the manufacturer of the TASER, the aforementioned preferred target areas increase the distance of the dart-to-heart safety margin. When deployed in the drive stun mode, the neck and groin are acceptable targets."

That policy reflects a change made in September 2012 under then-Chief James Craig to to reduce the risk of serious injury or death.

Taser International, the company that manufactures the devices, estimates Tasers have been deployed 2,854,884 times; in more than 5 percent of those cases, the company says, an officer could have used more lethal force -- such as a firearm -- leading the company to claim its devices have saved 154,000 lives.

According to Amnesty International, more than 500 people died between 2001 and 2012 after police stunned them with a Taser weapon.

In the past six years, there have been several notable Tri-State deaths tied to Taser use.

Everette Howard Jr., 18, died after a University of Cincinnati police officer stunned him with a Taser in August 2011; Howard's family later was awarded $2 million by the school as part of a settlement over his death.

UC's police department ceased using Tasers after Howard's death. Recently, there's been talk of bringing them back into service after motorist Samuel DuBose was fatally shot by UC Police Officer Ray Tensing, for which Tensing has been charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter and is awaiting trial.

More recently, Jennifer Bond of Port Allen, Louisiana, died in November 2014 after Kentucky State Police used a Taser to subdue her during an arrest in Crittenden, Kentucky. After being subdued, Bond was placed in the back of a KSP cruiser, where she then tried to kick out windows.

A few minutes later Bond experienced a medical emergency, KSP's Lt. Rick Saint-Blancard said. She later died at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Florence, Kentucky.

And in December 2009, Doug Boucher, 39, died after Mason, Ohio police stunned him seven times with a Taser. Boucher was mentally ill and unarmed during his confrontation with the two officers outside a convenience store; an Associated Press investigation found he was immobile and face-down on the ground for five of the seven times he was stunned. In July 2014, Boucher's family settled with the city of Mason and the two officers for $375,000.

Death following Taser encounters are typically attributed to health issues or drug use, police said at the conference.

When a drug-impaired person is shot with a Taser, they often don't react to the stunning sensation, Blackwell said. While the autopsy has yet to be completed, Blackwell said Carney's "erratic behavior" was consistent with that of an impaired person.

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