Cop on receiving end of taser
As two Bucs watch a mock arrest, a uninformed officer arrives and zaps the "suspect" with a Taser.
By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published April 28, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - To get a glimpse of routine police life, two Tampa Bay Buccaneers tagged along Wednesday night with a pair of cops.
Instead, they witnessed a bizarre scene in which a police officer mistook his colleague for a criminal, then shocked him with a blast from a Taser gun. The stunned officer fell to the ground and suffered a slight scrape.
The company that makes Tasers says it has never heard of such a case.
"It's an unfortunate incident," said St. Petersburg police spokesman William Proffitt. "And one we intend to investigate."
The department refused to release the identities of the Bucs players or the officers involved, saying the investigation was ongoing. The Bucs declined comment.
Only a few cases of police officers being stunned by department-issued Taser guns have been reported nationwide. Most of them were accidents in which an officer didn't pick up or handle a Taser gun appropriately.
Told of the St. Petersburg Taser incident in an e-mail, TASER International spokesman Steve Tuttle responded: "I am completely unfamiliar with any similar incidents."
Proffitt said the department would provide more details after concluding its investigation, which could take several weeks. The officers involved will remain on duty.
"It's regulation that we can't talk about it until we finish the investigation," Proffitt said. Police Chief Chuck Harmon also declined to comment.
The department is not conducting an internal affairs investigation, which is reserved for serious matters such as shootings. Instead, it launched a bureau investigation to examine if officers followed proper procedures.
Bud Maxey, a former major with the Tampa Police Department and former police chief in Starkville, Miss., said it is crucial to let people know whenever police officers are conducting mock arrests or drills in public places.
"If we had a training exercise (in Tampa or Starkville), everybody on the street would know about it," Maxey said. "We'd let the officers know, we'd let the sheriff's office know, we'd even let the citizens know."
The Wednesday night incident began quietly. Two officers were giving a pair of Buccaneers a taste of police work by letting them ride along in squad cars. Around 10 p.m., the officers decided to stop by a mock arrest exercise near Central Avenue and 24th Street.
About eight officers were gathered outside, Proffitt said. Two high-ranking officers, a lieutenant and a sergeant, were overseeing the exercise.
One of the officers was dressed in civilian clothing, playing the role of suspect. He picked up a golf club and pretended to threaten several other officers.
As the "suspect" wielded the golf club, other officers talked about him on a secondary radio channel as though they were dealing with a real incident, Proffitt said. They discussed how to approach and arrest him.
The officers were talking over a radio channel usually used by officers conducting stakeouts and surveillance.
Before most drills, a dispatcher usually announces the exercise on all radio channels. Proffitt said initial indications were that no such warning was issued for this mock arrest. He said it was unclear whether dispatchers were asked to make the warning.
The other two police officers, who didn't know about the drill and were a few blocks away, heard the transmissions and decided to help their colleagues.
"They were close by," Proffitt said. "They heard officers talking about a suspicious person."
So the two police officers drove up to the scene and yelled "Taser!" to the officer in civilian dress, Proffitt said.
When he didn't respond or drop the golf club, the uniformed officer stunned his colleague with a Taser, which can deliver an electric shock of 50,000 volts.
The officer with the club fell to the ground. He did not require medical treatment, police said.
City Council member Earnest Williams said the incident highlights the need to review how the department uses Tasers. Officers have discharged Tasers 37 times the first three months of the year.
"We need to make sure that everything's handled properly," Williams said.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or