Police taser 75-year-old at nursing home
October 20, 2004 | The Herald
By Matt Garfield The Herald
The Rock Hill Police Department is investigating why an officer used an electric stun gun on a 75-year-old woman who refused to leave a nursing home where she had gone to visit an ailing friend.
The woman, Margaret Kimbrell, said she suffered bruises on her leg and face after she was knocked to the floor by the force of the weapon, called a Taser.
Police Chief John Gregory said Tuesday the department is reviewing whether Officer Hattie Macon's use of the Taser was appropriate -- a step that is taken in unusual or high-profile cases.
"On face value, it looks like it was," he said. "We have a person who was asked to leave, who refused and who attempted to assault the officer."
Gregory did not say when the review would be completed. Kimbrell said Tuesday she's considering legal action against the department.
Kimbrell went to EdenGardens of Rock Hill, a retirement home on Constitution Boulevard, Friday evening to visit a friend who was scheduled to have colon surgery this week, she said.
Soon after she arrived, a staff member called police to have her removed for trespassing. A relative of the friend told an EdenGardens administrator she did not want Kimbrell there, said Larry Boesen, the home's executive director.
Police and Kimbrell offer two different versions of what happened after police arrived.
According to the police report, Kimbrell was sitting in a chair in a waiting area when Macon, 35, ordered her to leave several times. Kimbrell refused, jerking her arms away when Macon tried to lead her toward the door.
Police say Kimbrell eventually got up but walked toward the cafeteria after spotting someone she knew. At that point, the officer blocked Kimbrell and told her she was under arrest. Kimbrell then swung her arm at the officer, according to the police report.
That's when Macon used the Taser and placed Kimbrell under arrest.
Kimbrell on Tuesday disagreed with that version of events.
She said she did not swing her arm or threaten Macon.
"As weak as I am, how could I do that?" said Kimbrell, who has arthritis and suffered six broken ribs in a recent fall in her back yard. "Maybe I was trespassing, but I didn't know it. I thought they would understand."
She said she got upset because no one would tell her where her friend was -- or even if he was alive.
"I thought he had died," she said. "I was trying to keep from crying."
Kimbrell said Macon pressed the Taser to her back and used it during the exchange, causing Kimbrell to hit the floor.
"It was the worst pain," said Kimbrell. "It felt like something going through my body. I thought I was dying. I said, 'Lord, let it be over.'"
Kimbrell said she asked the officer and others at the scene to dial 911 because she was hurt. According to the police report, no one was injured in the incident.
Macon could not be reached for comment.
Kimbrell, of 1211 Meadow Lakes Road, was taken to the police department and later issued a citation for resisting police and trespassing. She spent three hours in a police holding area until her daughter, Donna, picked her up around 10 p.m., she said.
Kimbrell said she later learned her ailing friend was out taking a walk during the incident.
Review has been launched
According to the department's policy manual, cases when officers can use Tasers include when a suspect is threatening to punch or kick, or when officers "reasonably believe a suspect poses a credible threat."
"I have to believe at that moment, that's what the officer had to believe," Gregory said. "We have to look at what was reasonable under the circumstances. The determination about somebody being right or wrong has not been made."
Macon, who joined the department almost 18 months ago, remains on duty, said Gregory. The department has received no previous complaints about her performance.
"I can't overemphasize how concerned I am," said Gregory. "This case is getting a lot of attention, and I understand that ... If we find excessive force was used, we will take the appropriate disciplinary action."
The department is aware that Kimbrell and her family are planning to file a formal complaint, Gregory said.
Tasers prove effective
Nearly all of Rock Hill's 110 police officers have carried Tasers since last year, Gregory said. They've been used 57 times this year with no injuries reported, he said.
Before they are issued the device, officers must complete a four-hour training course that includes having a Taser used on them. They also must take a refresher course once a year.
Macon took the refresher course last month, said Capt. Charles Cabannis.
The devices have proven safer and more effective than batons and pepper spray, Gregory said.
"We have noticed a substatial reduction in injuries to suspects and officers since we've used them," he said. "It's kept us from having to fight people. We haven't had to beat anybody with clubs."
Gregory said an official from the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy had called Tuesday morning to ask if the department could lead a Taser training exercise for other state agencies -- a sign that the department's policies are well-respected.
"They're using us as an example," Gregory said. "We have a strict policy."