Tasers vs. Pepper Spray: "Hit me, I'll tell you which is worse"
Rocky's inquiry: One of the mayor's own serves as a guinea pig in an evaluation of police weapons
Salt Lake Tribune | June 21, 2005
By Heather May
Ty McCartney thwacked his leg repeatedly with a foam baton as he braced himself to be jolted by up to 50,000 volts.
Then - with a Taser's red laser beam pointed at his chest - he grimaced, drew in a breath and raised the baton, his "weapon."
"Police! Drop the weapon!" Salt Lake City police officer Jared Wihongi shouted.
Wihongi then fired two wired barbs at McCartney. One didn't stick, but the other embedded itself in his chest.
McCartney asked for it - literally. The five-second zap Monday was part of a research project as McCartney, who works for Mayor Rocky Anderson, helps the Police Department determine its Taser policy.
A former cop, McCartney figured he should do his homework.
He didn't "scream like a girl," as he feared. But the 33-year-old's guttural moans masked the electric "zzzz" of the Taser. His arms involuntarily contracted to his sides and he fell, bottom first, onto gymnastic mats laid on the floor in a classroom at the city's Pioneer Precinct. He tried to raise his baton to continue "attacking" Wihongi, but the threat was short-lived.
As soon as the shock subsided - a matter of seconds - McCartney was coherent. "I felt that right through my spine," he said while waiting for an officer to pull out the barb, which left a pinprick of blood.
McCartney said he felt winded, like he had run a sprint. "During that five seconds it wasn't pain, just disabling."
Then came round two of his masochistic morning: the pepper spray.
McCartney wanted to compare the two types of force that police officers use and see which one would stop his "attacks" the quickest.
Dressed in military fatigues and combat boots, officer Tyrone Farillas took over spray duties. Outside the precinct, McCartney fiddled with his foam baton again and then Farillas sprayed McCartney's eyes for about two seconds.
McCartney didn't yell or groan - he had been sprayed three times before when he was an officer. Instead, he charged another officer who was holding a protective mat. McCartney pounded on the mat for almost 20 seconds before giving up and asking for water to rinse his eyes. He couldn't see and had to be led into the
Several minutes later, his eyes still red, puffy and watering, McCartney announced his preference.
"The Taser, hands down. After five seconds, it's over. As you can see, in 15, 20, 30 minutes, this [spray] will still be a problem," he said, while sitting in front of a fan to aid his eyes.
McCartney said the Taser seems safer than pepper spray for the culprit and the cop.
"I reached the officer with the [pepper spray]. There was no chance with the Taser. In my opinion, the Taser seems like a safer mechanism."
That's still open for debate.
France Barral, representing Amnesty International on the Taser committee, said McCartney's experiment will be helpful, but probably isn't comparable to an assailant's experience on the street. Tasers have contributed to deaths - 93 in the United States and Canada by Barral's count - typically when the person was on drugs or had pre-existing health problems. McCartney is young and healthy, though his heart rate was high before he was shocked because he was nervous.
"Tasers have been a contributing factor to deaths. I'm not sure pepper spray has the same record," said Barral, who would like to see a moratorium on Tasers until the short- and long-term effects have been independently studied.
If Tasers are used, she said they should be deployed as an alternative to deadly force.
"When [McCartney] told me he was going to be Tasered, I was a bit scared," Barral said.
McCartney apparently wasn't.
"The great thing about pain, it reminds you you're alive," he said.