Cincinnati police chief 'extremely concerned' by off-duty officer's use of Taser on 11-year-old girl

'It was sad,' girl says
Posted at 7:12 PM, Aug 07, 2018

Editor’s note: WCPO previously withheld the girl’s name in order to protect her identity because she was charged with a crime. Now that she is not the subject of a criminal matter, and with the mother’s permission, we are naming the child.

CINCINNATI -- A police officer working an off-duty detail at a grocery store used a Taser on an 11-year-old girl Monday evening.

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot K. Isaac promised “a very thorough review” of his actions, as well as the department’s use-of-force policies as they pertain to juvenile suspects. He said he's "extremely concerned when force is used by one of our officers on a child of this age."

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, along with the girl's mother, also say the policy needs to change.

The officer had been called to investigate reports of several young girls stealing items from the Kennard Avenue Kroger when he spotted 11-year-old Donesha Gowdy walking away with a backpack full of items, according to the release and Lt. Steve Saunders.

She refused to stop after the officer warned her, and then he stunned her with the Taser.

Donesha, a fifth grader at Winton Hills Academy, is 4-foot-11 and 90 pounds, according to a police report.

Her mother, Donna Gowdy, doesn't believe any child should be stunned with a Taser. Gowdy said her daughter's body still hurts from that night, and that she shivers when she goes to bed.

"If you can't run, then you need to get off the police force. If you can't handle an 11-year-old child, then you really need to get off the police force. You here to protect these kids," she said.

Medics at the scene checked on the girl, as did staff at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Saunders said. She appeared healthy. Police charged her with theft and obstruction before releasing her to her parents.

Donna Gowdy showed a hole on her daughter's back from where she was stunned.

"It was sad," Donesha said Wednesday.

A Taser can be used on anyone between the ages of 7 to 70, according to Cincinnati Police Department procedure. Civil liberties attorney Al Gerhardstein worked with police to develop the policy in 2012 after 18-year-old Everett Howard died from being hit with a Taser used by a University of Cincinnati officer.

"It might be better than a physical takedown, but it should be a serious matter before you whip out a Taser and use it," Gerhardstein said.

Smitherman said Wednesday he'd introduce a motion to change the lower age limit to 12, rather than 7.

"We then have a policy that says if you’re 7, I can Tase you with 50,000 volts that, to me, doesn’t match our brand," he said.

Donna Gowdy agreed the policy must change.

"I don’t want it to happen to nobody else’s kids, because it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been a gun," she said.

PD procedures on use of force state, "The TASER may be deployed on a suspect actively resisting arrest when there is probable cause to arrest the suspect, or to defend one’s self or another from active aggression."

The procedure also notes that officers should consider the severity of the crime, the level of suspicion with respect to the fleeing suspect, the risk of danger to others and the potential risk of secondary injury to the suspect due to their surroundings before using a Taser.

"An individual simply fleeing from an officer, absent additional justification, does not warrant the use of the TASER," CPD procedure states.

Sgt. Dan Hils, the police union president, said the officer is not allowed to work the detail or work the street until the investigation is completed.

"That's knee-jerk," he said.

A Kroger spokesperson said the company is cooperating with the police investigation.

"We are saddened by this situation. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and associates. Our thoughts are with the family and child," the company said in a written statement. "While this was an isolated situation, we share Police Chief Isaac’s extreme concern and appreciate the Cincinnati Police Department’s response. We want to understand what happened, why it happened, and we are assisting local law enforcement with their investigation."

A rare incident

It's rare for local police officers to use Tasers on children, but it has happened before. 

The 9 On Your Side I-Team examined hundreds of local police incidents involving Tasers, focusing on two cases. 

In February 2017, a 12-year-old girl was sitting in a booth at a skating rink in Colerain Township, but wasn't wearing skates as is required by the rink. The manager said she gave him attitude, so he asked an off-duty deputy working security to escort her off the property. 

According to sheriff's department records, the girl refused and then resisted the deputy and a second officer, striking a deputy twice on the side of his face. The deputies took the girl to the ground and, after warning her she might be stunned with a Taser, one of the deputies used a Taser on her thigh.

An internal investigation reviewed skating rink surveillance video of the incident and determined that the deputies followed use of force policy.

There was another incident in January of this year. Cincinnati police used a Taser on a girl who had just turned 16. According to police records, the girl was a runaway who officers found in an apartment. She refused to leave a bathroom. Officers said her wrist was bleeding, and they ordered her not to reach for scissors on the floor. She did anyway, and an officer used a Taser on her for nine seconds.

The girl refused to cooperate, so the officer used the Taser on her two more times. The investigation reviewed body camera footage and found the officers followed the department use of force policy, even though a supervisor determined the bathroom was too confined to allow the proper use of a Taser.