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82-Year-Old Woman Tased

By Margaret Lyons in News on Nov 7, 2007 12:12AM

Mary Mitchell goes to town today with an article about Chicago police officers Tasing an 82-year-old woman.

The Illinois Department of Aging (who knew?) received an anonymous tip that Lillian Fletcher, alone in her West Side home, needed help; they dispatched the police to do well-being check. When police got to Fletcher's door, she refused to let them in, and when they pushed their way in, she got a hammer.

Police spokeswoman Monique Bond tells a slightly different version of events:

Workers with the city's Department on Aging were making what is called a "well being check" at Fletcher's home on the city's southwest side... "The woman was seen at the window with a hammer in her hand, swinging it back and forth," Bond said. The social workers called police. A landlord opened the door with a key and when the officers stepped inside, the woman was swinging the hammer, Bond said.

Either way, the police told her to stop, she didn't, and they Tasered her. They took her to Mt. Sinai Hospital for treatment, where she was hospitalized for five days.

Fletcher's granddaughter, Traci Taylor, told Mitchell that her grandmother is schizophrenic and suffers from dementia. She also says that her grandmother is still complaining about pain and a burn on her abdomen from the October 29 incident, and that doctors told her that her grandmother should be treated by a neurologist because she has fluid on her brain. We can't tell if Mitchell and Taylor are saying that the fluid is a result of the Tasing--electric shocks have been linked to disrupting heartbeats, but we're not finding anything linking Tasers to hydrocephalus.

Mitchell's story loses us, though:

Obviously, there are times when a Taser should be used to keep the peace. And disabling an out-of-control person is better than shooting that person and asking questions later.

But in Fletcher's case, police officers showed extremely poor judgment. Even if she didn't look elderly, there was no question she was mentally disturbed.

How do these police officers justify using such force on an elderly woman? Where was their compassion?

First, that's not obvious--plenty of people disagree that Tasers should ever be used. Second, if Mitchell says "disabling and out-of-control person" is fine, doesn't Tasering someone who's obviously mentally disturbed fall within that category? Third, if she's going to concede that Fletcher might not have looked elderly, then how can she wonder how the officers would justify their use of force? Wouldn't they say "She didn't look that old, and she was mentally disturbed and swinging a hammer at us"?

Look, we're obviously not advocating the Tasering of 82-year-old women. Tasers are dangerous and can be extra dangerous if they're used on someone's who's on drugs or has a heart condition. But how are police supposed to assess that at the scene, theoretically in life-or-death situations?

Pic of the Advanced Taser M26s via DGG Taser. Those are the ones the CPD uses.