Cincinnati police change use of force policy after 11-year-old Tased

Cincinnati police change use of force policy after 11-year-old Tased
FOX19 NOW/file

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati police officials have changed their use of force policy to include new guidelines for Taser use after an officer shocked an 11-year-old girl with a stun gun, sparking outrage, calls for change and a $240,000 settlement.

The revisions were quietly unveiled Thursday in the police department’s weekly Staff Notes published on the city’s website, where we found and downloaded them as any member of the public could have.

We reached out to Cincinnati police for comment and will update this story once we hear back.

Related story: 11-year-old Tased by police: Cincinnati, Kroger settle excessive force claim

"USE OF FORCE Procedure 12.545, Use of Force, has been revised to reinforce the United States Supreme Court ruling in Graham vs. Connor (1989) which declared the need of police use of force meet the standard of “Objective Reasonableness.”

"Numerous criteria have been added to assist in defining the “Objective Reasonableness” standard. Additionally, the following changes have been made:

  • “Reinforcement of de-escalation techniques as the preferred method of gaining voluntary compliance”
  • “Removal of the specific, allowable age range (7-70 years of age) pertaining to the use of a TASER”
  • “Officers should avoid using the TASER on persons who reasonably appear to be, or are known to be, young children, elderly, medically infirm, pregnant, or users of a cardiac pacemaker”
  • “Officers are not prohibited from using the TASER on such persons, but use is limited to those exceptional circumstances where the potential benefit of using the TASER (i.e., injury reduction) reasonably outweighs the risks and concerns.”
  • "Application of the above restrictions to the use of all less-than-lethal and non-lethal force options"
  • “Permitting the use of the Beanbag Shotgun by all Department sworn supervisors once certified by SWAT & Tactical Support Unit, Civil Disturbance response Team, or Firearms Training Squad”
  • “Certification for sworn supervisors will occur during annual firearms training”

City leaders called for a complete review of CPD’s Taser policy and changes after Officer Kevin Brown Tased 11-year-old Donesha Gowdy at the Spring Grove Kroger store on Aug. 6.

At the time, the officer - who was working on off duty security detail at Kroger - was trying to stop her from fleeing a shoplifting offense after seeing her and other girls stealing snacks.

The Taser barbs hit the 90-pound, 4′11″ tall girl in the back, and she fell to the ground without breaking her fall, according to an attorney for her family, Al Gerhardstein.

The officer arrested Donesha on charges of theft and obstruction of official business, but those were dropped at the request of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.

Chief: Officer who Tased 11-year-old girl violated procedure

In October, Gerhardstein announced the city of Cincinnati and Kroger Company agreed to pay a total of $240,000 to settle the claim of excessive force by the child.

He also said the girl wrote an apology to the store and released a copy of the note.

Gerhardstein said the settlement money would be spent on therapy for Donesha and her sister, who witnessed the incident, and for Donesha’s education.

We asked Gerhardstein to review the updated policy and let us know what he thought.

He provided the following statement:

As a civil rights attorney who represents persons against whom the police use force, I view the revisions to the use of force policy are a positive step. The most important changes are:

  • “Requiring de-escalation  techniques whenever possible.  This is an amendment consistent with  best practice that the community has requested and it is good to see it in  the new policy.”
  • “Detailing 13 objective  factors to consider before using force.  These are also consistent  with best practice and will be helpful to all of us who want officer  discretion utilized within clear parameters.”
  • "Expanding Taser caution  to include all “young children” as opposed to the former prohibition on  using the taser against those 7 and younger.  In a rapidly evolving  situation officers may not know a child’s exact age but they can tell if a  person is  a “young child.”  That age guideline when combined  with other considerations already in the policy should prevent the  inappropriate use of tasers.  The other other guidelines include
  • Use de-escalation
  • Do not taser simply  because the person is fleeing without additional justification
  • Obtain backup 
  • Use only after all the  criteria for use of force are satisfied

There are problems with the way we police our youth. When the Chief announced the discipline of the officer involved in the tasing of the eleven year old he included this in his 10/30/18 press release, “The Department has also committed to developing a juvenile problem-solving team to further police-community relations between officers and youth.” I am hopeful that the team will be constituted very soon so we can join together to protect our youth while promoting public safety.

According to the old policy, it appears Brown’s actions were permissible. The old policy limited Taser use, but left much discretion up to the officer.

It read, in part: “Officers should avoid using the Taser on obviously pregnant females and those individuals under the age of 7 or over the age of 70 due to the potential for these individuals to fall when incapacitated by the Taser.”

At the time of the incident, Police Chief Eliot Isaac said he was “extremely concerned" about the use of force on the girl.

He told Cincinnati City Council in September CPD’s use of force policy for Taser use was in line with ones used in other police agencies, but he said the department may “tweak” it.

The changes make sense in a modern policing world, said FOX19 NOW’s legal analyst, former Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, who now works as a defense attorney.

“An officer in a stressful situation where he or she has to use the Taser is not always going to be able to determine specifically whether someone is between the age of 7 and 70. I admit it would be highly unusual to Tase someone younger than 7 or older than 70. but in today’s age, who knows.”

Police use of force, he noted, always involves second-guessing of officers.

“I don’t know that this would make them second-guessed any less,” Allen said.

In late October, Brown was found to be in violation of several Cincinnati Police Department rules and regulations.

He received several punishments including a seven-day suspension from duty and a two-month suspension from working outside police-related details.

A use of force report found the officer violated four policies when he shocked the girl:

  • The department’s rules and regulations related to prejudice by telling the girl: “You know sweetheart, this is why there’s no grocery stores in the black community, because of all this going on."
  • He did not activate his body camera until after he deployed his Taser.
  • He did not warn the child he was going to use the device.
  • The incident was not serious enough to deploy a Taser. Officers are told to use the least amount of force necessary.
Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Brown (Photo: GoFundMe)
Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Brown (Photo: GoFundMe)

The leader of the union who represents Cincinnati police, Sgt. Dan Hils, is out of town and could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

A GoFundMe account is open for Brown, a veteran officer. It has raised $6,484 toward a $50,000 goal.

“Given the media attention of this and the reaction from said media, the mayors office and city administration/police department, Officer Brown has since become scrutinized for simply doing his job,” the GoFundMe page reads.

“He has been taken off street patrol, placed on desk duty and stripped from working details and is being punished for doing what he was hired to do by the Kroger Company.”

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