No officer goes un-'tased'

Moffat County Sheriff's deputies lined up to get jolted with 50,000 volts when they trained on a new law enforcement tool Wednesday.

They were introduced to the Taser.

The less-than-lethal "stun gun" delivers a burst of electricity that can bring even the most combative subjects under control.

It is an especially welcome addition to the Moffat County Jail, where an understaffed detention crew routinely deals with dangerous people, said Sheriff Buddy Grinstead.

The Taser will be available to all officers, but "our main focus is for the jail," Grinstead said. "It's another tool to use in effecting compliance. Before our guys start wrestling around, they'll implement the Taser."

"A disruptive inmate can make the whole pod disruptive," said Lt. Dean Herndon, the jail administrator. "Then you have a potential riot situation."

Fights and other disruptions have broken out at the jail in recent weeks, according to several detention officers. They're hoping the Taser can curb that behavior.

"Just showing up at the door with this thing will probably de-escalate the situation," said Deputy John Kurz, who had just finished getting blasted by the weapon.

The sheriff's office recently purchased four of the Tasers for about $400 each. Stu Nay, an undersheriff from Clear Creek County, visited the Moffat County Public Safety Center Wednesday to train the deputies how to use the new tool.

Nay is a certified Taser instructor. Nay's department has been using the Taser for more than two years.

As part of the training, Grinstead required his staff members, and himself, to witness first-hand the effects of the Taser.

Officers took turns hooking themselves up to the Taser's probes before Nay pulled the trigger. The Taser delivers series of high-voltage, low-amperage electric pulses.

Screams, grunts, convulsions and some swearing soon followed.

"Could you have fought through that?" Nay asked each subject.

"No way," was the inevitable answer.

"Now you understand the impact of this thing," Nay told them. He said the officers will have a better idea how the weapon affects people. It lends officers credibility as experts in the subject matter, Nay said.

The Taser looks like a plastic gun. It is powered by eight AA batteries and a cartridge of compressed gas.

The gas propels two metal probes that have tiny barbs on the ends. A length of very fine wire trails behind the probes, connected to the gun. The probes strike a subject, penetrate the skin and create an electrical circuit. But even if the probes don't hit the skin, because of heavy clothing or body armor, the electricity still can flow. The shock that follows overwhelms the body, causing momentary incapacitation. It gives officers a window of opportunity to make an arrest or restrain an inmate.

The Taser is different from other less-than-lethal weapons, Nay said. Batons and pepper spray rely on "pain compliance."

Suspects who are in a rage, and those who are high on stimulants, such as PCP, cocaine or methamphetamine, often are impervious to pepper spray and other painful arrest-control techniques.

The Taser, Nay said, is effective more than 90 percent of the time. And while it has an unmistakable pain component, it works by temporarily disabling people -- even those who don't feel pain. The Taser overwhelms a body by jamming the central nervous system with electrical noise. The electro-muscular disruption that follows causes muscles to go to full contraction.

Nay showed videos in which extremely angry and belligerent subjects were subdued by the Taser. Most of them fell straight to the ground when the Taser was deployed. They surrendered after the five-second shock was over. In one video, a large bull was brought down by a Taser shot.

Most of deputies did not get shot by the Taser, but hooked themselves to the electrodes. Kurz and Cpl. Larry Dalton volunteered to be shot. Kurz even took the full five-second ride.

Dalton said suspects often complain when they are handcuffed. He anticipates those who will react similarly to the Taser.

When suspects say, "You don't know what I'm feeling," Dalton said he'll reply, "Yes I do."

The Taser fits in the sheriff's "use-of-force continuum" right above verbal warnings, but below hand-to-hand combat, Grinstead said.

That is also the policy in Clear Creek County, Nay said.

When suspects refuse to cooperate, officers will issue a final warning, "Do it or I'm going to tase you."

For those who still refuse to play nice, Nay said the next step is, "Zap."

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