It was hard to stifle a chuckle the other day when I read about the Thomson cop suspended for playing around with his Taser.
Lt. Scott Whittle (no relation to our sheriff) was working as a security officer for a city event when someone videotaped him shooting a young man with his city-issued Taser.
Egged on by a happy little group of friends, the young man asked Whittle to zap him. The video shows him laughing when Whittle gives him a tiny jolt from the weapon. When that video showed up on Facebook, Whittle wound up on suspension.
This reminded me of the time, a little more than 20 years ago, when Richmond County cops first started using stun guns. They made a big deal out of how the weapons would be an important non-lethal tool for police officers, and as a police reporter for The Chronicle, I was curious about the effects of the controversial devices.
So, with permission from then-Richmond County Sheriff Charles Webster, I allowed training Capt. Richard Myers to use a stun gun on me.
Stun guns are different from Tasers. Tasers fire a pair of darts connected to the gun by wires, which deliver the voltage to the unlucky victim a few feet away. Stun guns are entirely hand-held, with two metal contacts that the user has to touch to the person to subdue him.
To demonstrate the county's new Nova XR-500 stun gun, Myers stood behind me with his left hand on my shoulder, and with his right stuck the stun gun to my abdomen and pulled the trigger.
We caught it all on tape, too - though in the days before digital images and Internet movies, a photographer captured the event on 35mm film. The next day, the paper ran a sequence of photos as the camera caught me going boneless and hitting the floor. The only lasting affect was a couple of nasty burns on my abdomen from the contact points.
Completely unrelated to that test, Richmond County soon stopped issuing stun guns to its deputies.
Why, you ask? Was it because they were inhumane? Because of civil rights complaints? Because of pesky newspaper reporters?
Nope. Like the Thomson cop with his Taser, it was because the deputies just couldn't resist playing with them. They got a kick out of squeezing the trigger to shoot a little electric arc across the contacts, and endlessly horsed around with each other in the squad room.
That meant when it came time to actually use the stun gun, the batteries were often too weak to do anything more than annoy a suspect.
I suppose Whittle's suspension shows some things never change. My only regret is that I don't have a video from way back when of one of those cops zapping a fellow deputy in the fanny with a stun gun. That would be an instant hit on YouTube.
Speaking of hits, this year's Christmas in America Festival Saturday sure seemed to make a splash.
It was cold, but the free hot chocolate from members of the Vineyard Church warmed things up a bit. And it warmed my heart to see so many people at the event.
One of the best things happened, though, out of earshot of most of the 2,000 or so spectators. It took place backstage when our longtime emcee, Jennie Montgomery, recited a brief history of the tree-lighting ceremony to our honorary tree-lighter, Merchants Association Fair Queen Jocelyn Harper.
She recalled how we lit that first tree in 2001, just weeks after the devastation of 9/11. Our community sorely needed to dispel some of the shock while channeling our rekindled patriotism; Christmas in America was born.
That first year the honorary tree lighters represented emergency services workers, giving us an opportunity as a community to recognize their sacrifices in the terror attacks.
I'm sure most of the people in the audience Saturday were just happy to get a glimpse of their child on stage with the mass chorus. I was thrilled to know that the nation those children have grown up in since 9/11 remains free to hold such celebrations.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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