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St. Louis police investigating use of Taser on two downtown protesters

St. Louis police investigating use of Taser on two downtown protesters

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ST. LOUIS • An officer’s use of a Taser in arresting two people in an anti-police-brutality demonstration will be investigated for compliance with policies, the police department said Monday.

Kristine Hendrix, 34, of University City, posted a cellphone video online which shows her and a man walking on a sidewalk on Washington Avenue downtown Friday night, seconds before a male officer uses a Taser to subdue both.

They and six others were arrested on suspicion of impeding traffic by walking in the street. She and the man also were accused of resisting arrest.

The video shows the officer appear in front of them. The male suspect appears to dart left, then right before the officer fires a Taser. The rest of the video is mostly a black screen, but Hendrix’s screams and the clicking of the Taser can he heard, along with an officer’s repeated command: “Put your hands behind your back.” She tells him she can’t because it hurts, and he uses the Taser again.

Hendrix, a member of the University City School Board, also posted pictures on her Twitter account, @prissikrissi3, of two marks on her hand she said were caused by the Taser. She said she also had marks on her breast.

The video drew critical response from at least two officials: Alderman Antonio French and state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.

On Twitter, French called for an aldermanic public safety committee hearing.

Chappelle-Nadal said Hendrix was “videotaping terrorism.”

“She has had a small voice prior to the incident, and I hope she has a bullhorn now that she has had an experience she can talk about,’’ Chappelle-Nadal said.

Police Chief Sam Dotson declined an interview request Monday, saying the incident is under investigation. He noted in an interview Sunday with Fox 2 News that the bicycle patrol — not officers in riot gear — handled the situation in a response he called “very appropriate and very measured.”

Dotson also told Fox 2, “The public has a tremendous amount of tolerance, but at some point, when people’s lives are put at risk, and that night the motoring public and protesters’ lives were put at risk, I think the public expects their police department to do something.”

A police summary said the “Black Lives Matter” protest began at Kiener Plaza around 8:15 p.m. Friday and that by about 11:40 p.m., participants were walking down the middle of Washington Avenue and nearly caused several crashes by disregarding signals at Tucker Boulevard.

The summary also says: “The department has launched an internal affairs investigation into the incident to ensure all department policies and procedures were adhered to during the arrests as well as examine the events leading up to the arrests.” It said there were no injuries.

The department’s Taser policy says the electric-shock devices can be used only when “other less-lethal force options have proven ineffective in controlling an aggressive subject or when it reasonably appears that other less-lethal options will be ineffective.”

David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Tasers can reduce injuries by preventing fights, but in rare instances can be lethal. Without judging this instance, he warned that “... sometimes officers rely on them too quickly instead of talking to someone as much to try to avoid a fight.”

‘PLANNED CONFRONTATION’

The St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager, Jeff Roorda, called the incident a “planned confrontation,” in which protesters intended to force officers into making arrests. He said, “The video doesn’t tell us anything other than when people resist arrest, it sounds bad.”

Hendrix does not deny walking in the street, but said she was on the sidewalk when she was shocked with the Taser.

“We understand that with acts of civil disobedience, there can be consequences,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “However, we just assume that with well-trained police staff, those consequences don’t necessarily have to be Tasering or shooting or even arresting people — because, what a waste of time and energy when there are people being murdered at alarming rates in our city.”

She added, “This isn’t about me personally, this is about everyone who has been treated unjustly by our so-called justice system. We need to look at the pattern, not just individual people.”

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Christine Byers is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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