The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 30, 2007

Six lawmen placed on leave

By Jeff Lehr

CASSVILLE, Mo. — Three sheriff’s deputies and three Cassville police officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of an investigation into a deputy’s alleged use of a Taser gun on a suicidal woman at the Barry County Jail.

Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly said he sent a letter to the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Monday requesting an outside investigation of an incident July 24 at the jail.

The sheriff said a 40-year-old woman from Butterfield contacted an off-duty sheriff’s deputy about 10 p.m. on July 23 at his home in Butterfield, stating that she was suicidal. The off-duty officer contacted the sheriff’s office, and an on-duty deputy was dispatched to the home.

Epperly said that deputy called for an ambulance after speaking with the woman, and she was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Cassville for a voluntary committal for mental evaluation. But the woman later left the hospital on her own, the sheriff said. County deputies and Cassville police were notified, and they sought to pick her up again out of concern for her well-being, the sheriff said.

Epperly said they found her in Cassville, but she became combative and had to be restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles.

“She was very combative during all this and wanting to do bodily harm to herself,” the sheriff said.

He said the woman was taken to the jail in handcuffs and shackles about 12:30 a.m. on July 24 and was left lying in the booking area, where she began hitting her head on a concrete floor. He said officers tried to get her to stop, even placing a towel around her head to cushion her from the blows she was rendering, but she would not stop.

Epperly said a deputy then used a Taser gun on her in the presence of two other deputies and three police officers. Epperly said the use of the Taser, which delivers an electronic shock, and the other officers’ failure to intervene and keep the deputy from using it are what he and the Cassville police chief have called into question as improper policy and procedure.

One of the other deputies present had supervisory duties with respect to the other deputies at the time, the sheriff said.

The woman eventually was taken to the Hawthorn Center in Joplin for mental evaluation and possible treatment. The sheriff said she apparently did not suffer any physical injury from the deputy’s use of the Taser gun.

Not identified

The names of three Barry County sheriff’s deputies and three Cassville police officers who have been placed on leave while an investigation is in progress into the alleged use of a Taser gun on a suicidal woman are being withheld by the sheriff’s and police departments pending the outcome of the investigation.