Matt Ryan
June 30, 2010


Stories of police crossing the line between reasonable and unjustified physical force are commonplace in our modern news cycle. Years ago Rodney King became a household name and a verbal symbol of injustice at the hands of law enforcement. This story captivated the nation and shed a light on what normally would be a small blurb in the back pages of national media. Thanks to a rise in independent and social media, stories like these are no longer buried as deeply.

Police brutality is a phrase used to describe excessive use of force by a police officer on a citizen that may not pose a clear and immediate threat. Regulations typically state than an officer may only use a level of force equal to that of the threat, keeping them from becoming the offender rather than the peace keeper. Sadly, these regulations have been tossed aside thanks to the widespread adoption of the stun gun.

Stories of elderly at the receiving end of this “non-lethal” device come out regularly, and in many of the cases an officer is supported by their superiors for inflicting the electric jolt on citizens. Below are a couple examples of such actions.

Kathryn Winkfein – Routine Traffic Stop
An example would be the 72-year-old woman in Travis County, Texas during a routine traffic stop on May 11, 2009. The woman, Kathryn Winkfein, was going 60mph in a construction zone with a 45 speed limit. The officer wrote her a ticket and she refused to sign, indicating she would rather go to jail than sign a ticket she did not agree to.

The officer asked her to get out of the car and she complied, but when he told her where to stand in the road she used profanity against him. This was enough for him to justify using his stun gun on her multiple times. She was unarmed, and though she may have been disobedient towards the officer posed no physical threat to him. During the administration of the electric shock he ordered her to put her hands behind her back. This is an impossible feat for someone to accomplish while they are being tased.

Lona Varner – In Bed on an Oxygen Machine
An 86-year-old grandmother and civilian veteran of WWII was tasered while laying in her bed and breathing with assistance of an oxygen machine in El Reno, TX. Lona Varner is seeking $75,000 in a lawsuit against the city of El Reno.

Here is a link to the lawsuit.

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Police intially responded to a call from her grandson stating that when he asked her if she had taken her medication and when she was unable to respond, he summoned 911 to request an ambulance. Instead of an ambulance, however, almost a dozen police officers arrived and forced themselves in to the woman’s apartment.

Raw Story reports that when they walked in to her bedroom she asked them to leave and pulled a knife from under her pillow indicating she would defend herself if they came any closer or tried to disarm her. Ignoring the obviously bedridden state of the woman the commanding officer, Thomas Duran, decided to order officers to taser the elderly woman. Her grandson asked the officers not to tase his grandmother and, according to the lawsuit, they threatened to tase him as well.

According to the police report, Lona Varner said, “If you try and get the knife, I will stab you and kill you. I killed four Japs in World War II and I would not bat an eye killing you.” This statement, along with an alleged change of posture in her bed apparently caused the officers to use their tasers on her again causing her to pass out.

Her lawyer says police treated the frail woman brutally, ripping the flesh on her arms as they grappled with her. Reports out of KOCO News indicate that her wounds include a laceration from her elbow to her wrist received when officers controlled her arm to remove the knife from her hand. In addition, the report indicates that the officers stepped on her oxygen tube causing her severe oxygen deprevation during the arrest.

The lawsuit states that the officers acted outside of the 14th ammendment, causing her physical harm, humiliation and emotional distress.

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