Cops Now Taser an Unarmed Scared Mentally Handicapped Woman into Submission
Mentally Disabled Unarmed Woman Tortured and Shocked repeatedly with Taser
Officer denied using weapon, suspended after investigation
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Amanda Beets is 28 years old, but she still refers to herself as a child, even when discussing her own little girl, Ashley.
As she recalls the events of March 21, 2005, when she was shocked repeatedly by a Knoxville Police Department Taser although she wasn't fighting with officers, she describes the experience in the plainest of terms: "It hurt. It really hurt."
Beets lives in a small house on Connecticut Avenue in North Knoxville with her mother, Carol Dianna Lewis. A bout with spinal meningitis when Beets was an infant left her with a speech impediment and impaired mental functioning, problems that have kept her from striking out on her own.
Lewis is anything but evasive when asked who started the chain of events that led up to the Tasing of her daughter: She did, by leading Knox County deputies on a car chase that began in Halls and ended a few minutes later in her driveway.
She readily concedes that the deputies - and the two KPD officers who showed up at her house to provide backup - had every reason in the world to be scared and angry after the lengthy pursuit, which ended in her arrest on charges of evading arrest, driving on a revoked license and simple possession of marijuana.
Lewis said she understands that what she did was wrong. What she doesn't understand is why her daughter, who she says functions at the level of a 12- or 13-year-old girl, was hurt in the process.
When Lewis pulled into her driveway, she was swiftly taken into custody by the numerous officers who responded to the scene. Beets was inside the house with Ashley but ran into the driveway after hearing several loud bangs that she mistook for gunshots.
Terrified that her mother was dead or dying, she raced toward where Lewis was being subdued by deputies. She began screaming at the officers. She was grabbed by KPD Officer Brian Headrick, who was soon joined by KPD Officer Chad Riggs.
What happened next is unclear, although more than a dozen people were interviewed during the ensuing Internal Affairs probe. Beets said she was kicked by someone and that Riggs used the Taser on her three times even though she wasn't struggling with officers.
Riggs admitted that he got out of his cruiser with the Taser in his hand, although KPD's rules at the time prohibited officers from deploying the weapons without getting a supervisor's approval. He said Beets seemed to be attacking Headrick and that during the melee, Beets ran into him. He said he did not know if the Taser came in contact with Beets but that it was "possible," records show.
"Headrick said Beets was yelling and 'flailing her arms around' but did not try to attack him," according to the IA report filed later on the incident. "He described her behavior as 'disorderly' and also said it was obvious by this point she was mentally challenged or 'there was something wrong with her.' He said at one point he, Beets and Riggs were all in close proximity to each other and he 'heard a Taser going off'... for 'five or six seconds.' "
Beets was released without being charged, and Riggs later told Headrick that he hadn't used the Taser and therefore didn't need to fill out a use-of-force report, records state.
Headrick reported his suspicions to his supervisors, who quickly contacted Beets and her family to find out what their accounts of the incident were. Riggs' supervisors were able to use a computer printout from Riggs' Taser to confirm that the weapon had been discharged three times, and a physician who examined Beets said she had "dual Taser burns on her upper back, chest, neck and on (her) breasts," the IA report states.
Sgt. Keith DeBow, who heads KPD's Taser training program, said "he felt it was 'highly unlikely' that Riggs' Taser could have been activated accidentally three times," the IA report notes.
Riggs was later suspended for 10 days without pay after the IA investigation concluded that he'd used excessive force and failed to make a use-of-force report. He resigned about six months after the incident.
Beets has since sued the police department, Headrick and Riggs for $1 million in
compensatory and punitive damages in Knox County Circuit Court.
Headrick, who is still a KPD officer, couldn't be reached for comment, and Riggs' attorney, Richard W. Krieg, said he's advised his client to not discuss the case.
KPD officials and Beets' attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, declined to comment on the incident, citing the pending litigation.
Beets says she was traumatized both mentally and physically by the event and wants the police department to make sure that more officers like Headrick are encouraged to turn in officers who break the rules. "I want to stop this before another kid gets hurt," she said.
Lewis said that she has nothing but praise for Headrick, whom she describes as "one of God's own." Lewis, who has a history of low-level criminal offenses, said that before the incident with her daughter, she didn't trust police officers to be moral. But Headrick's actions and the swift response of KPD supervisors, she said, convinced her that KPD genuinely wants to do the right thing.
When it comes to Riggs, however, Lewis is clear that an administrative punishment isn't satisfactory.
"I admitted I did wrong; I pleaded guilty to what I was charged with," she said.
"He assaulted my daughter. ... I would prefer that he was put in jail."