Ga. cop defends use of TASER

Two Ga. officers out following controversial incident seen on video

By Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

STEWART COUNTY, Ga. — Janice Wells called the Richland Police Department when she feared a prowler was outside her clapboard house in the rural west Georgia town on April 26.

The third-grade teacher had phoned for help. But within minutes of an officer coming to her back door, she was screaming in pain and begging not to be shocked again with a Taser. With each scream and cry, the officer threatened her with more shocks.

The officer was Ryan Smith of the nearby Lumpkin Police Department. Smith was called to back up Officer Tim Murphy from the Richland Police Department because the Stewart County Sheriff's Office had no deputies to send.

Smith resigned as a result of the incident. Murphy, 52, of the Richland police, was fired for using pepper spray while trying to arrest Wells, who is considering filing a lawsuit.

"All of it's just unreal to me. I was scared to death," Wells said in an interview with the AJC. "He kept tasing me and tasing me. My fingernails are still burned. My leg, back and my butt had a long scar on it for days."

Wells and the officers gave conflicting accounts of what happened that night but all agree that the struggle between Wells, 57, and Murphy started because she would not tell him the name of a friend who was at her house in Richland, 35 miles southeast of Columbus, when Murphy arrived that night.

Much of what happened in front of Wells' house was recorded by the camera on the dash of Smith's patrol car. The AJC obtained a copy of the video.

Smith, who quit eight days after the incident, remains unrepentant.

"I did what I had to do to take control of the situation," Smith told the AJC about his decision to repeatedly discharge his Taser.

Yet his former boss, Lumpkin police Chief Steven Ogle, was shocked when he saw the video.

"I couldn't believe it," Ogle said. "You don't use it [a Taser] for punitive reasons, to prod someone. It was evident it was an improper use of force. He was an excellent officer other than that incident."

Smith resigned just as Ogle started the process to fire him, the chief said. Smith now works for the neighboring Chattahoochee County Sheriff's Office.

And on April 28, the Richland Police Department fired Murphy, who did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Copyright 2010 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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