Parents Call For Ambulance But Cops Show up With Taser Instead

Body cam footage submitted by Janet, of Union County, Illinois, shows her son, who suffered from meth-induced mental illness, being tased by police officers. Imagine parents calling 911 for an ambulance, and instead, police officers, aware that they have a warrant for the son, show up instead, and without an ambulance. Instead of medical treatment, the use force.

Facebook version:

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Jacob Anderson’s father called 911 seeking an ambulance for his son, who was suffering a mental illness emergency due to his meth addiction. An ambulance never arrived however. But several police officers did arrive, including Deputy Schildknecht, who turned on his body cam after arriving at the Anderson home. According to his report, he noted that he received a report that Jacob was having a mental health crisis, described as psychotic, and that an ambulance was needed. He then wrote, “I also knew that Jacob had a felony warrant . . . as well as history of running away naked from help when we arrived.” Upon arriving, the deputy made contact with Jacob’s parents, who indicated that Jacob was inside the residence, and appear to have let them in. 

Deputy Schildknecht wrote in his report, “As I approached the door I could hear a male yelling. I then withdrew my taser and knocked on the door. I then heard the male yell “come on through, I’m going to the side door.” “As I walked through the residence and came the side door, Jacob saw me, turned and began to run away from me. “At this point i raised and fired my taser at him as he ran away.” “I was unable to issue a warning to him because the situation evolved so quickly.”

The deputy wrote that he “allowed the taser to run for the five second cycle until Sheriff Harvel and Chief Wilkins could get there to assist.” 

This offers a good example of what I would classify as controversial use of a taser: against someone who poses no threat, but is merely starting to run away, and doing so immediately without explanation or warning. Let’s take a look at the footage, and then we’ll go into the law on tasering unarmed suspects in Union County, Illinois, which is the 7th Circuit.

Here’s the relevant portion of raw footage that Youtube won’t let me show without restricting the video:

He also mentioned in his report that, “After the arrest of Jacob, I realized he broke my Oakley Mercenary sunglasses [he] had been wearing…” He attached a photo of them, noting that he paid approximately $140.00 for them two years ago. 

The International Association of Chiefs of Police puts out a model taser policy, which provides the following guidance to law enforcement agencies around the country, about taser usage on suspects:

Should be used:

to protect the officer or others from reasonably perceived immediate threat of physical harm from the person to be exposed to the ECW;

to restrain or subdue an individual who is actively resisting or evading arrest; or

to bring an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control.  

Should not be used:

on individuals who passively resist and are not reasonably perceived as an immediate threat or flight risk;

on individuals in restraints, except as objectively reasonable to prevent their escape or prevent imminent bodily injury to the individual, the officer, or another person; 

however, in these situations, only the minimal amount of force necessary to control the situation shall be used;

when the officer has a reasonable belief that deployment may cause serious injury or death from situational hazards including falling, drowning, or igniting a potentially explosive or flammable material or substance, except when deadly force would be justified;  

when the suspect’s movement or body positioning prevents the officer from aiming or maintaining appropriate body part targeting unless the risk of increased injury to the suspect is justified because of a perceived threat or flight risk.  

Union County, Illinois is in the 7th federal circuit, which has quite a few published cases on when taser usage is considered excessive. Lewis v. Downey (7th Cir. 2009) held that the tasing of a jail inmate with no warning who wasn’t threatening the officer would be excessive, and ultimately categorized tasers as an intermediate level of force that is designed to cause severe pain. The Court noted that Courts generally hold that the use of a taser against an actively resisting suspect either does not violate clearly established law or is constitutionally reasonable. Thus, “actively resisting” may, or may not be sufficient justification for police to use a taser on a suspect. 

But, what about active resistance from someone known to be mentally ill, who is not actively threatening anyone, but merely trying to run away? 

In the 9th Circuit opinion in Bryan v. Mcpherson, the Court warned that, “The problems posed by, and thus the tactics to be employed against, an unarmed, emotionally distraught individual who is creating a disturbance or resisting arrest are ordinarily different from those involved in law enforcement efforts to subdue an armed and dangerous criminal who has recently committed a serious offense.” “[T]he use of force that may be justified by” the government’s interest in seizing a mentally ill person, therefore, “differs both in degree and in kind from the use of force that would be justified against a person who has committed a crime or who poses a threat to the community.” Bryan v. MacPherson (9th Cir. 2010).

The 7th Circuit has cited the 4th Circuit published opinion in Estate of Armstrong v. Pineville, which held that, “Where, during the course of seizing an out-numbered mentally ill individual who is a danger only to himself, police officers choose to deploy a taser in the face of stationary and non-violent resistance to being handcuffed, those officers use unreasonably excessive force.” Estate of Armstrong v. Vill. of Pinehurst (4th Cir. 2016).

Utilizing the Graham Factors, we can skip to the most important Graham Factor, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers, or anyone else at the scene. The video proves conclusively that there was no safety threat posed to any individual. He was running away and clearly wasn’t holding a weapon. Nor was he threatening anyone. Reviewing the deputy’s report, he admits that he tased Jacob in the back as Jacob turned to run away. He mentions no immediate safety threat as his basis for the use of force. 

Now the second Graham Factor is met to some extent for the officers. He was actively evading them. However, they had not announced their presence, nor the reason for their presence. They had not identified themselves, or mentioned that they had a warrant. They pretty much instantaneously encountered him and then tased him. Was merely running away from the sight of law enforcement sufficient to constitute “active resistance” sufficient for a 5 second shock from the deputy’s taser? 

Let’s look at the first and final Graham factor, the severity of the crime. There’s no allegation that Jacob had committed a crime. But he apparently did have an outstanding unnamed felony warrant. The officer’s report doesn’t mention any serious crime Jacob was alleged to have committed so as to necessitate an immediate tasing. Moreover, the reports also indicate that the officer was well aware of the fact that Jacob was suffering from a mental illness episode. Thus, the courts expect the officer to take that knowledge into account when deciding whether to tase Jacob, as opposed to tasing first, and asking questions later.

Bystander Films Cops Bothering Homeless Lady and Gets The Special Treatment

In Richmond, Virginia, Kaya had just picked up some groceries and was walking home. She noticed some police officers bothering a homeless lady sleeping on a bench. She stopped to film them. You know what happens next…. She reached out to me and asked me to share her story.

Here’s the full video with the raw bodycam footage:

New Bluefield Police Department Footage Shows Arrest of Hiram Tolliver

For some unknown reason, following police vehicle pursuits, the suspects rarely make it to jail without suffering violent injuries. They always tend to resist, or get accidentally injured in some way. I’m about to show you brand new footage showing my client, Hiram Tolliver being taken into custody by the Bluefield, West Virginia Police, after leading them on a brief chase. It’s not all that clear why he was fleeing, or why they were chasing him. Other than an allegations of hearing screeching tires, he wasn’t suspected of committing any prior crime. On May 5, 2022, Bluefield Police Department Officer D.R. Barker was assisting the city manager at an intersection in Bluefield, West Virginia. He claims that he heard a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. He claims that he heard the screeching of tires “where the vehicle was taking turns too fast.” Once the vehicle came into view he pulled in behind it and tried to stop it, but the driver fled.

According to the police reports, the pursuit began at 9:29 p.m. Body cam footage shows that the pursuit ended at around 9:36 p.m. – so roughly 5 or 6 minutes – at which time the driver, Hiram Tolliver, was violently taken into custody on the dead end street in front of his parents home. By around 9:48 p.m., Mr. Tolliver would end up falling off the roof of the local fire department building. That’s right, this story doesn’t end with the arrest itself. 

See the footage for yourself:

Does what we saw on the video line up with the police reports? Officer Barker wrote the following:

The vehicle then came to a stop at the dead end. The driver was then ordered out of the vehicle and to get on the ground. The driver went to the ground. When he was ordered to give us his hands, he resisted arrest. Detective K.L. Ross could not bring his hands together to effect the arrest. Defensive tactics were used to apprehend the suspect in order to effect the arrest. I was finally able to cuff the driver of the fleeing vehicle.

Patrolman Barker’s report.

Officer Barker mentioned in his report that he sustained an injury to his right hand. In fact, we can see that injury in his body cam footage. Gee, I wonder what could have inflicted such a brutal injury?

Unfortunately, similar to the missing body cam footage, we have no report from the first officer to make physical contact with Hiram, Detective Ross.

Justifiable force must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. Courts don’t generally second-guess an officer making split second decisions with 20/20 hindsight in a struggle with someone physically resisting or fighting with them. But if the facts show the arrestee has submitted to them, not resisting, and that force is applied unnecessarily, as a punishment or retaliation, rather than in an attempt to gain control or custody of the person, that is always going to be unreasonable. 

Officer Barker didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “defensive tactics” being used on Hiram. There were multiple eyewitness we may hear from later, but what does the video show? Injuries are important evidence in use of force cases, as they can help establish the level of force, and type of force, used. There were several glimpses of Hiram’s face following his arrest. You saw how one side of his face appeared to be bloodied, and the other didn’t. This matches up with subsequent photos from the hospital. You also saw how Detective Ross took Hiram from the first police cruiser all the way back to the last police cruiser, with Hiram limping, in obvious pain. Instead of providing, or making available, medical treatment for his arrestee, Detective Ross instead lectures Hiram, essentially telling him to suffer because of what he had done, endangering police officers during the pursuit. 

Compare the screenshot from the video with the hospital photo. Clearly the facial damage was caused during the initial arrest, not the drop from the roof:

Photo showing the facial injuries in the hospital, which appear to match the injuries seen in the initial arrest footage.

Given everything that just happened, as well as the officers’ allegations that Hiram had almost killed several police officers and resisted arrest, to the extent of requiring “defensive tactics,” they wouldn’t un-handcuff him to walk him into the police department for processing would they? Apparently they did, and according to them, Hiram made a run for it just as they were entering the police department door. He jumped over a guardrail, and onto the roof of the fire department, running across the roof and jumping off the roof onto the asphalt 16 feet below. Here’s the only police report to document the roof incident:

Patrolman Hamm’s report.

The officer who was present for the fire department jump wrote in his report that the first thing he did when he reached Hiram, injured on the asphalt, was handcuff him. Indeed, those handcuffs can be seen in the body cam footage, despite what appears to be a compound fracture of his arm and wrist. There didn’t appear to be much concern by the Bluefield Police Department about the constitutional responsibilities and obligations placed on the government after taking a citizen into custody. Government officials have a duty to provide medical treatment. They have a duty to ensure the safety of their arrestees. 

Hiram was airlifted to Charleston Area Medical Center and underwent extensive surgery, treatment and rehabilitation. Why would Hiram have tried to get away? Perhaps he was scared. You could hear that during his arrest, when it sounded like he was being struck by the officers, he was crying out to his parents, who were eyewitnesses, that he was in fear for his life. If he was really trying to flee, why would he pull onto his parents’ dead end street and stop in front of his parents’ home. Perhaps he was scared that the police were going to hurt him? Perhaps he thought there would be safety in witnesses. It’s not all that far-fetched that the fire department roof jump resulted because Hiram thought he would be killed inside the police department and ran for his life? 

There were indeed multiple eyewitnesses. In the video, you can hear one of the officers threatening them to get back in their home, and to stop watching the use of force being inflicted on Hiram. I’ll continue investigating and will have more on this later, so subscribe to the email updates to follow along.

Justice Department Finds that Pennsylvania Courts Discriminated Against People with “Opioid Use Disorder”

The Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent a letter to the Pennsylvania State Court System, advising them that following an investigation, several of their county court systems were found to have violated federal disability discrimination laws. I just happened to come across this and hadn’t seen it in the news anywhere. But this seems important. This has been happening in West Virginia for years, and no doubt is happening across the country.

The Justice Department found that the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, through the actions of its component courts, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by prohibiting or limiting the use of disability-related medication to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) by individuals under court supervision.

The Justice Department identified three specific individuals with OUD who had been discriminated against by the Northumberland and Jefferson County Courts of Common Pleas.  Two individuals alleged that the Jefferson County Court ordered all probationers to stop using their prescribed medication for OUD. A third individual alleged that the Northumberland County Court required her to stop using her prescribed OUD medication to graduate from drug court. The department’s investigation corroborated these allegations and additionally found evidence that multiple other county courts in Pennsylvania have treatment court policies that discriminate against individuals with OUD.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “OUD medication gives people the time and ability to make necessary life changes associated with long-term remission and recovery,” “minimizes cravings and withdrawal symptoms,” and “lets people better manage other aspects of their life, such as parenting, attending school, or working.” 

Methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine (including brand names Subutex and Suboxone) are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat OUD. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone and buprenorphine help diminish the effects of physical dependency on opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings, by activating the same opioid receptors in the brain targeted by prescription or illicit opioids without producing euphoria.

Here’s the full letter:

I have to wonder what other applications or consequences this may have going forward?

“To whom it may concern” letter detailing the fact that it is illegal under federal law to mandate COVID vaccines

Here is a “to whom it may concern” letter for those in West Virginia who are being threatened with, or subjected to, COVID vaccine mandates:

Thanks to Chris Wiest in Kentucky for the assistance in generating the substance of the letter.

New issues are presented on whether jail and prison inmates in (or from) West Virginia can/should be released due to COVID-19

We’ve been working hard in multiple cases to try to obtain the release of some non-violent jail and prison inmates who are currently stuck in their cells, having completed the bulk of their sentences for nonviolent offenses. Many of the facilities have stopped all academics and facility programming and just leaving people quarantined in their cells. (Update 4/30/20: Success! First one is out!)

Many of these same individuals have the ability to be self-sufficient in the outside world – even during this crises – rather than requiring prison staff to interact with them, feed them, and so on. Not to mention the requirement of we the taxpayers to fund the whole thing. Yet even with this global pandemic, West Virginia’s correctional facilities are still overcrowded, with more inmates incarcerated than there are “beds available.”

As of April 1, 2020, there were still 270 more prisoners incarcerated than available beds. Many of these prisoners, such as the ones we’ve been trying to help, are nonviolent offenders who’ve already served most of their sentence, who pose no real risk to public safety, and who could be assisting their own families at this time. Some of these individuals have underlying health issues which makes them especially vulnerable.

The West Virginia Division of Corrections has come up with a comprehensive plan to mitigate the likelihood of an outbreak in these facilities, but we’ve all heard about the issues at nursing homes in West Virginia, where our outbreak first started. Vulnerable individuals in institutions such as these are at “grave risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19,” and this includes vulnerable prisoners. See Joe Severino, Charleston Gazette-Mail, A WV Nursing Home Had 29 COVID-19 Cases. Here’s How they Contained the Spread (Mar. 31, 2020).

West Virginia recently passed legislation which was intended to address overcrowding, but which also would be perfectly suited to the COVID-19 threat. However, it doesn’t go in effect until June 5, 2020. In that legislation, the DOC is authorized to develop and approve home plans for certain qualifying inmates. This would help, but June is still some time away. In the meantime, inmates are most likely required to go back to their sentencing judge in the court/county in which they were sentenced. That’s what we’ve been doing.

In federal court, there’s a provision for an inmate to petition for what’s called a “compassionate release,” which would apply well to prisoners with an underlying health vulnerability. However, there’s a problem there as well. By law, they’re required to make an administrative request to the federal Bureau of Prisons first, prior to going to the sentencing judge.

Unfortunately, West Virginia doesn’t have an option for “compassionate release” just yet. But something needs to be done. So far, we’ve filed motions for reconsideration of a sentence under Rule 35(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure. There’s a time limit of 120 days generally to file this, so most inmates are going to be beyond this number. However, there is an exception which allows a sentencing judge to waive the time limitation so long as it doesn’t “usurp the role of the parole board,” whatever that means. See, e.g., State v. Head, 198 W. Va. 298, 480 S.E.2d 507 (1996). 

We finally have our first hearing coming up this week on a Rule 35 COVID motion. We do know that certain sentencing judges around the state have allowed some of their inmates an early release on bond or home confinement due to COVID-19, but at this point it’s entirely up to the discretion of the court, which means that everything is on a case-by-case basis.

In the federal system, there is a mechanism for release, and there’s a number of set factors for the court to address – also a case by case analysis. But again, there’s that requirement to exhaust administrative remedies from within the BOP first before filing.

So far the ACLU and Mountain State Justice have tried to take action on a multi-client basis and have been denied. Again, these are case-by-case fact-heavy situations which require going to the sentencing judge. In New Jersey, there’s already been a case up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on a “compassionate release” petition. (USA v. Raia) However, because they didn’t make the petition to the sentencing judge, and also because the inmate didn’t ask the BOP administratively first, it got sent back with no real decision.

On its own, the West Virginia DOC has already released about 70 parolees who were serving short terms for parole-related violations, and about 70 other work-release inmates on “extended furlough.” Who knows where we go from here, but as they say, “no asky, no gety….”

If you need help with an inmate who you believe is vulnerable medically, or who is a nonviolent offender who has served a substantial portion of their sentence, we would be happy to help. Give us a call. (304) 772-4999. We’re still working, though we’re having all consults via telephone or teleconference.