Chief says use of stun gun on UO student justified

EUGENE — Police Chief Pete Kerns said a Eugene police officer was justified in using a Taser stun gun on a non-English speaking Chinese student, a finding immediately questioned by the city police auditor and local Asian-Americans.

The incident occurred Sept. 22, hours after the student and his roommate moved into a town house. Timothy Breen, the landlord, initially told police he thought the people inside had broken in, only later realizing they were the rightful occupants. Officer Judd Warden said he used the stun gun after the student did not respond to repeated commands to show his hands.

Kerns said the police department's Taser policy allows officers to fire a stun gun at anyone an officer "reasonably believes creates an immediate, credible threat."

Kerns, however, conceded it wasn't an easy call, and the use of force was at "the edge" of what's allowed.

City Police Auditor Mark Gissiner — who oversaw a police department investigation into the case — said Wednesday that he informed Kerns prior to the chief's ruling that he believes Warden inappropriately fired the Taser.

"Based on my review of the totality of the circumstances, I did not think that level of force was justified," Gissiner said about an hour after the chief issued a memo announcing his decision.

In the memo, Kerns wrote that Warden's decision to stun the 19-year-old foreign student after trying unsuccessfully to communicate with him "was objectively reasonable under the circumstances."

The student's name was not released.

Kerns also ruled that Warden and officer Lori Barnes rightfully entered and searched the student's house without a warrant. Because the officers had probable cause to arrest the suspected trespassers, they appropriately handcuffed and detained the students, Kerns said.

Kerns met with a group of local Asian-Americans before announcing his decision. Members of the group strongly disagreed with him.

"We are appalled and dismayed that Chief Kerns deemed the use of a Taser was justifiable," said Pam Quan, a real estate agent. "This is unacceptable in Eugene."

Kerns also met in private Wednesday morning with the Tasered student and his roommate.

"I told them that I am sorry this happened," Kerns said.

In a written statement, Mayor Kitty Piercy said the City Council must examine the police department's use of Tasers, and police officials must do the same. Kerns said he would support changing the policy to state that Tasers should be used whenever an officer is faced with the "threat of physical injury" rather than when an officer believes a suspect poses "a physical threat."

The threshold for permitted use is likely lower than it should be, Kerns said.


Information from: The Register-Guard,

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