A former police officer who may have tazed a man as many as 28 times has been acquitted by a federal jury to the surprise of many who have followed the case of former Oglala Sioux Tribe police officer Rebecca Sotherland. Sutherland, 33, is shown below tazing Jefferson Eagle Bull, 32, who had reportedly drunk of gallon of vodka and passed out in Manderson, South Dakota. Manderson is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota. Sotherland faced three criminal charges including “deprivation of constitutional rights, assault with a dangerous weapon and obstruction of a federal investigation by filing a false report.
The video was shot on August 15, 2014 when Sotherland found Eagle Bull lying on the ground too drunk to stand. Four hours after drinking the vodka, Eagle still had a blood alcohol level of 0.319. She was fired after the videotape was posted.
Sotherland was fired shortly after the incident, according to KOTA-TV. Indian Country Today Media Network reported “she is not a tribal member and grew up in Hot Springs,” two hours north of Manderson, which is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota.
The trial took three days. The defense insisted that Eagle Bull was “playing possum” and not really unresponsive. The defense insisted that Sotherland ordered Eagle Bull to get up or get in the car more than 280 times. Sutherland also testified that she had encountered Eagle Bull before and that he would pretend to be unresponsive. She said that he recognized her as she approached and closed his eyes. However, his blood alcohol level supported the prosecution’s view that he was passed out. This was a response to a simple “welfare call.” More importantly, even if he was responsive, it is unclear why hitting someone dozens of times with a taser is the appropriate response.
In the 26 minutes of the video, the prosecution counted 28 Taser jolts, 18 of them drive stuns. A “drive stun” involved placing the taser against the body for the stun.
At one point, she got him to his feet but he returned to the hole. She then used pepper spray.
During the examination, the prosecutor asked why she did not try to see if he was in need of medical assistance:
Koliner: “You didn’t know, maybe he was dead”
Sutherland: “Sometimes, they are.”
Kaoline: “You didn’t even go check on him. Is that reasonable to you?”
Sotherland: “I don’t know what to say.”
Kaoline: “Jefferson Eagle Bull didn’t present a threat to you that day.”
Sotherland went on to testify that she did not help him because he was a threat because there were “weapons lying all over” the area in the form of sticks, boards and metal pipes. Yet she continued to taze him after he was handcuffed and took 18 minutes to call for backup.
Motherland’s conduct seems to me clearly excessive and captures the long concern that officer treat the tazer as a tool of first resort instead of weapon to be used solely for their own protection in extreme situations.
What do you think?