Deputy Suspended for Tasering Students at Their Request
The Denver Post via YellowBrix
April 09, 2010
DENVER – A Lake County sheriff’s deputy used a Taser on about 30 high school students Thursday morning during a career fair on the playground of Lake County High School in Leadville.
The Taser — a nonlethal weapon that administers an electric shock — was applied to the students’ legs, and some suffered burns of varying degrees. At least one student was treated for burns at the St. Vincent General Hospital emergency room in Leadville.
The hospital refused to comment on the number of students treated or the severity of the injuries.
Deputy John Ortega, who has been with the department since August 2008, was immediately suspended for one week without pay, Sheriff Ed Holte said.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert dispatched investigators to the school to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
School principal Cathy Beck said the students were offered the chance to be Tasered.
“We (the administration) had no idea this was going on,” Beck said. “This is very unfortunate. I’m sorry the sheriff’s office thought that it was appropriate. We don’t think it was appropriate.”
The school, which has about 300 students in grades 9-12, sent a letter home with each student asking parents to check their children and report if any had been Tasered, and to seek treatment if they had.
Beck said she has the names of 30 students who were Tasered. “I’m hoping it’s not more,” she said. “I’m not sure where we’re going with this. We’re leaving it up to the district attorney’s office.”
Holte said students asked Ortega whether he would use the Taser on them, but he declined. But then the students told Ortega they were willing to sign release forms and Ortega “foolishly agreed,” Holte said. The video on Ortega’s Taser showed 19 students being stunned.
Holte said Ortega used a “drive-stun technique” on the students.
Tasers normally fire two small darts attached to thin wires anchored to the gun. As the darts penetrate the skin, a powerful electric shock is emitted. Holte said the drive-stun technique eliminates the wires and projectiles, allowing the gun to operate like a stun gun. When the gun is touched to a person’s skin, a painful shock is felt, he said.
“It gives a pain reflex for about a second. People can move after being shocked,” Holte said. “Once you feel it, you certainly don’t want it to happen again.”
He added that the drive-stun technique is typically used at close range to subdue a suspect.
Both principal Beck and town spokeswoman Betty Benson said they were unaware of any release forms signed by the students. Benson said nothing of the sort was turned over to DA’s investigators.
Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott, who has been at odds with Holte over how emergency services should be handled in the mountain and mining community, said, “This is just another incident that shows our sheriff doesn’t have the necessary leadership or management skills to run the department.”
“This behavior jeopardizes the safety and welfare of the community,” Elliott said.