Thursday, June 12, 2008

Phil Sano, tasers and accountability

Ok, ok, ok. This has NOTHING to do with the retail store, and pretty much not a single thing humorous.

I'm an avid biker. While living in NYC and here in Florida. It's my favorite thing to do.

Recently on reddit I came across an article.

Subject: Portland cyclist tasered by police for not having headlight. "Without question, I could tell they enjoyed seeing me become so helpless, so weak. It was humiliating."

You have to click on that, right?

Here is the article.

This is a letter I wrote to the Mayor of Portland and to the Chief of Police, Chief Sizer. I thought it important to post this, A) because I wanted to leave a comment on the website to show some solidarity and B) because it's better to say something than to not.


Chief Sizer,

My name is John Painz, I live in Palm Harbor, Florida and I read about this incident on

It's difficult to make a rational comment about this topic since A) I don't live in Portland and B) don't know all of the facts (I've heard one side, biased or not, though with increasing police taser stories nationwide, I'd have to go with unbiased)... But I'd like to give my opinion on tasers and their apparent abuse, throughout the country.

Officers are taught not to use their firearms in situations that don't call for it... The consequences are usually dire, and paint a terrible picture of the police.

They've now been given a device that they can use, where the assailants, the majority of the time, won't be permanently damaged, and are immobilized enough for police officers to guarantee their own safety in a possibly dangerous situation.

From a responsible standpoint, it's a powerful tool for police officers.

But what we're seeing more and more are officers who were once impotent in their use of force, now have a tool where they can support their need for control and violence, in any situation they deem fit.

From the picture at the scene on, there are more than 6 police officers at the scene. For a man who didn't have a light on his bike?

I recognize the importance of bike safety. I'm an avid biker myself. But this group confrontation not only supports the actions of the one or two officers involved, but it empowers other officers nation wide. It strengthens the bonds between fellow officers who might not think twice to use a device that is potentially deadly, for an offense that does not require this kind of response.

Police officers have to be better trained to know when to use such a device. I find it IMPOSSIBLE to believe that officer Erin Smith could not have found a less dangerous way of confronting Phil Sano, especially with that many additional officers around. Especially since two accounts say he did not identify that he was a police officer. Pushing someone off of a bike is dangerous enough, especially for something like a missing light. Then to taser him repeatedly, while officers just watched... It's completely reprehensible.

Trumping up Sano's charges with 'resisting arrest, attempted escape III and disorderly conduct'... Those are basically tell-tale signs of officers who know they went too far, and pad their report to inflate the situation and keep themselves and others in a better light.

I understand the obligation that police officers, their fellow officers and their higher ups are under to protect their own. What they do every day, the dangers that they face, the extraordinary situations they face. It's hard for most people to wrap their head around, fully. But that is a dangerous slope. There are strict limits of what is acceptable, and then there is accountability.

With every incident like this one that gets the poo-poo rhetoric and eyerolls, the jokes at work, police chiefs and other brass are sending a clear message to the citizens of its city (respectively) and to other fellow officers, like I said. That protecting their own is more important than protecting the people.

"If he didn't do what he shouldn't have done, I wouldn't have had to tackle him off his bike, taser him, taser him again, put my knee into his back, cuff him... All for a light on his bike." (these are no one's words, but that roughly defines the series of events)

Put that into perspective.

In this day and age, you cannot expect these stories to NOT have a life of their own, online. You cannot expect there to be repercussions from the public. Because everybody knows somebody with a story. You're helping pile on resentment for people who are trying to protect us, by allowing a whitewash of these events to just pass by, waiting for the next big story.

Do you ever wonder why there is so much resentment towards police? Don't you think that situations like this just perpetuate that resentment?

These officers need accountability training. Tasers are not substitute toys for guns. Had Sano died from his injuries, those officers would be out of a job and up on a huge wrongful death suit. It could have happened. It didn't.

Doesn't mean it's just going to go away. Think twice before hoping cases like this will just be forgotten in a week. People, the people who care, never forget. As I said, everybody knows somebody with a story.

John Painz

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