Fans Zapped by Tasers at Football Game
Rushing-the-field penalty? Police say they went by the book; fans say they just wanted to celebrate
The Salt Lake Tribune | January 5, 2005
By Matthew D. LaPlante
|Dozens of Ute fans attempting to storm the Fiesta Bowl gridiron in a rite of football victory were each hit with a 50,000-volt electric jolt from police officers.
Among those shocked after Saturday's game in Tempe, Ariz., was a Judge Memorial High School student who says he and others just wanted to celebrate with their beloved team and were not acting violently when they were zapped.
Heart expert warns about using Tasers
Arizona State University police spokesman Keith Jennings said the use of the weapons was in line with the department's use-of-force policy. That policy permits the deployment of electronic incapacitators anytime a subject is involved in a physical altercation with a police officer.
Jennings conceded, however, that only two individuals were arrested for scuffling with officers.
aftermath of the game - and he wasn't sure whether either of those individuals was among the estimated 24 who were shocked.
The officers used the weapons at the Sun Devil Stadium in part "to protect the goal posts and the field" for an NFL game scheduled the following day, Jennings said.
"It was justifiable," he said. "They were also trying to protect people - if they go down to the field and knock over the goalpost, that sort of thing, we're liable if someone gets hurt. . . . We just wanted to force them back into the stands."
University of Utah Police Chief Scott Folsom questioned the necessity of shocking the fans, who were attempting to enter the field after being beckoned by several Ute football players.
Folsom - a member of the "partying populace" of Utahns who traveled to Tempe for the historic bowl game - didn't see the Taser incident. The veteran lawman did, however, see the throng of fans pressing against a fence on the north end zone, trying to enter the field.
He said his department, responsible for providing security at Ute home games, probably would not use electric force in a similar situation.
"If you had a person who was seriously disruptive in that crowd, you might use a Taser to bring that person into custody so you could deal with them," said Folsom, whose officers carry Tasers at Ute games. "You certainly wouldn't 'Tase' people indiscriminately hoping to move an entire crowd back."
But that's exactly what 16-year-old Chris Mogren said he saw as he joined scores of other fans, many from a fan group
called the "Mighty Utah Student Section," in trying to enter the field.
Mogren said he was pressed up against a 6-foot-high cyclone fence when he was shocked in the arm. The officers stunned "whoever was up against the fence," he said.
Mogren said he saw 10 to 15 other Utah fans get shocked.
"We weren't trying to break anything, or to tear down the goal posts or destroy the field," he said. "We just wanted to be over by the team."
The ASU Police Department maintains that anyone who was shocked must have been actively fighting with officers, per the department's policy, Jennings said.
In drafting rules on the use of Tasers, most public safety departments stick closely to guidelines written by Taser International. Those guidelines require all officers who use a Taser to file a detailed report about the conditions under which the weapon was used.
Jennings said it is unlikely, given the chaotic situation and numerous Taser uses, that the reports will accurately document each instance in which the weapon was used at the Fiesta Bowl.
A relatively new weapon in the arsenal of police departments across the country, electric incapacitators have been criticized recently over their proclivity to be used in situations in which the shocked subject later dies - including a December incident in Heber City that on Tuesday remained under investigation.
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International maintains the weapons are safe and actually have prevented hundreds of deaths.
Utah fan Scott Smith, who witnessed many of the shockings at the bowl game, told The Associated Press he didn't feel the risks associated with fans on the football field justified an electronic response.
"If someone was shocked and something happened, I think that would probably be a high price to pay to save a little piece of grass," he said.