09/03/2009

Wyo. town angry over officer's use of TASER on 76-year-old

By Matt Joyce
Associated Press

GLENROCK, Wyo. — Bud Grose seemed like the last person who should attract the attention of police when the 76-year-old retiree hopped on his antique tractor and rumbled through the annual parade in this small Wyoming town.

But what was supposed to be a day of fun at an end-of-summer festival ended abruptly when police shot Grose with a Taser in a dispute about where to end the parade route.

The incident nearly incited a riot as outraged neighbors rushed to his defense. Now residents of this tight-knit town of 2,400 are seething over what they see as police brutality, and town officials are scrambling to ease the tension.

The Glenrock Police Department has placed two of its seven officers on paid administrative leave and hired a consultant to conduct an internal review that began last week. Prosecutors have decided against filing any charges in the Aug. 1 confrontation, and Police Chief Tom Sweet acknowledged the situation has "highly inflamed the community."

"To me it doesn't matter if this was a town of Glenrock's size or New York City. This kind of stuff can't go on," said Grose's son, Mike. "It doesn't matter if there's 10 officers or a thousand, this is just totally unacceptable. We're taught to respect the law, not fear it."

The fracas at the annual Deer Creek Days arose from confusion over whether members of the tractor club could deviate from the parade route shortly before it ended.

Grose wanted to head directly to the town park for a tractor pull like in previous years. But the police department had a different plan, which apparently was not communicated to the tractor drivers.

As a result, Grose encountered a Glenrock officer attempting to direct the tractors along the regular parade route. Grose said he drove around the officer. The officer said he was struck by the tractor and injured his wrist, according to a state review of the incident.

"He, for some reason, said no, and I, for some reason, thought to myself yes," Grose recounted.

The police chief said the officer then chased Grose on foot until a fellow officer joined the pursuit in a police SUV and caught up to Grose's tractor. The police pulled in front of the tractor, and the tractor came to a stop as it bumped the SUV.

That is when the officer shocked Grose with the Taser. Grose eventually managed to pull the tractor around the police SUV and to a parking area down the road. An angry crowd formed as police kept ordering Grose off the tractor. Police did not arrest Bud Grose because of the tension at the scene, Sweet said.

"At the time, it was very close to having a riot right there, and that probably would have created a full-scale riot," Sweet said.

Grose's son, Mike, agreed. "There was some very good people there ready to make some bad choices that would have affected them for the rest of their lives," he said. "That's the point it had gotten to."

A lawyer for the two officers issued a statement Monday saying the officer who fired the Taser did so only after Grose "slammed" his tractor into the police SUV, resisted police commands and kept driving.

"They ultimately de-escalated a volatile situation created by Mr. Grose's actions. If anyone violated the law that day, it was Mr. Grose," Casper attorney John Robinson said. "He should not be regarded as a folk hero."

Police fired the Taser five times, according to a state review.

Residents are not letting the matter fade quietly. Mike Grose and his wife have printed T-shirts with a cartoonish drawing of a police officer using a Taser on a tractor driver. The caption reads "If you missed Deer Creek Days 2009, you missed a shocking experience."

The police chief acknowledges that the situation could have been handled differently.

"I think there were some contributing factors on both sides, from the law enforcement side and from Mr. Grose's side that maybe could have prevented some of the problem," Sweet said. "There probably was some better judgment that could have been used by everybody involved."

An estimated 2,000 people were on hand for the parade, which is part of a festival offering cookouts, an art show, street dances, sports tournaments, car races and a Christian revival.

Mike Grose was driving a tractor following his father and managed to catch up to see an officer about to shoot his father with a Taser. Mike Grose said he yelled at the officer not to shock his father because of a heart condition. Bud Grose underwent heart bypass surgery in 2000.

"It hurt like hell," said Bud Grose, who suffered bruising on his left upper body but no serious injuries.

Brad Jones' 9-year-old son was riding with Bud Grose in the parade, helping steer the tractor. An officer removed the boy from the tractor before Grose was shocked with a Taser.

"I mean this guy's a senior citizen with heart problems, driving a tractor. Whether or not he disobeyed, it didn't have to come to that," Jones said. "If the town don't do something with the officers, I think it's going to be really bad for the town. Our last two council meetings, the whole town is in an uproar."

After reviewing the state Division of Criminal Investigation's report, Converse County Attorney Quentin Richardson said last week that prosecution was not warranted for "any individual involved in the incident."

Bud Grose, who has retained an attorney, said he was relieved by that decision. He said he hopes the police internal investigation comes to the "correct decision."

"I'm a back-row person. I'm not enjoying the attention that I'm getting. It's totally out of character for me," said Grose. "I'm getting a tremendous amount of support from people I've never met before."

Sweet, who joined the Glenrock police in February, said communication will be key to settling the town's nerves.

"There's a lot of distrust now, and I'm relatively new here, but I'm going to have to build that trust back up," Sweet said. "At some point in time, people are just going to have to trust that we are going to do the right thing and take it for what it's worth."

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