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Taser Use On Students Gets Officer Suspended

CHERYL N. SCHMIDT, [email protected]

LAKELAND

BASEBALL PLAYERS ASKED HIM TO; HE "OBLIGED THEM'

By CHERYL N. SCHMIDT

[email protected]

LAKELAND - A police officer who worked at Lakeland High School has been suspended for violating the police department's stun gun policy.

In one case, Officer Michael Branch stunned five members of the school's baseball team after they "asked you to show them what it felt like to be "Tased' and you obliged them," Police Chief Roger Boatner said in a disciplinary letter to Branch.

In a later incident, Branch stunned two boys, ages 17 and 18, who were blocking his path as he tried to make his way to a fight that had broken out between two students.

"The students were not facing you at the time and did not offer "active physical resistance,' " Boatner said. Active resistance is a required factor in the department's policy on proper Taser use.

The weapons, which deliver 50,000 volts of electricity and are touted as nonlethal by their manufacturer and law enforcement, have been under increased scrutiny after the deaths of some suspects. Amnesty International USA cites 103 Taser-related deaths in the United States and Canada since 2001 and has called for a moratorium on their use until further medical studies can be done.

The human rights group is especially concerned about use on children because their brains are still developing and there is no medical evidence as to how the jolts may affect that development or whether they could cause emotional problems, Edward Jackson, media director for Amnesty International, said Friday.

Drug intoxication is the official cause of death in most Taser-related deaths, Jackson said, which raises another concern: "If kids are on Ritalin and they're shocked with the Taser, are we going to see the same situations that we've seen with adults who are on stimulants and die after being shocked with a Taser?"

Boatner acknowledged the ongoing debate in his letter and said that is why following department policy is important. "To develop a personal deployment policy on the "fly' is unsound and cannot be permitted," he told Branch.

Boatner imposed a 2 1/2-day suspension for the baseball incident and a one-day suspension for the fight, although he made them concurrent so Branch will miss only 2 1/2 days.

Branch, a 17-year department veteran, has transferred to school resource officer at Lakeland Highlands Middle School and "voluntarily gave up his Taser," police spokesman Jack Gillen said.

Branch reported his use of the Taser during the fight, but police didn't learn about the baseball players being stunned until another student told his father and the father complained to Lakeland's principal, Gillen said.

"We're very happy that that young man reported it to us, or we would have never known about it," Gillen said.

Reporter Cheryl N. Schmidt can be reached at (863) 683-6531.
 
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