It is not easy to publicly say “Stop we need to examine what happened and see if we have other ways to accomplish the same goal.”
DeWitt County Sheriff Carl Bowen has done just that after a deputy shot a hand-held device that fires a highly pressurized stream of fluid containing capsaicin, the active chemical in pepper spray, tear gas and chili peppers in an attempt to subdue a suspect. The pellet struck the man in the eye.
The man is now blind in that eye and needs surgery to repair the damage. The man claims the pellet caused the problem.
The sheriff ordered all the guns, called the Defender, off the department’s arsenal of non-lethal equipment so they could inspect the guns and determine if it was responsible for the injury.
He is right in taking this action. It is essential the department, as well as other agencies, know the dangers of the equipment they use. They also need to make sure they are using the equipment properly.
The sheriff is right to err on the side of caution as he works to determine if this is a piece of equipment they want to keep in their supplies.
According to reports, the deputy used proper guidelines while discharging the weapon. He stood the required distance away and aimed the gun at the man’s eye – as the manufacturer instructs officers to do. The pellet releases the liquid upon contact. It is designed to cause discomfort and pain so the suspect obeys the officer’s command.
An officer, in all situations, must maintain control of the scene during an investigation for his safety, as well as the safety of everyone involved.
Most officers would love it if the people they are trying to arrest would listen to their requests and follow through, but unfortunately not everyone is willing or able to listen to simple requests.
Law enforcement officers have a large variety of non-lethal equipment to use if verbal commands do not work. All come with some degree of risk. Among the other options are Taser guns, batons and pepper spray.
All can cause injuries even if used properly. Some, such as the Taser, have been linked to deaths.
In this case, the officer can be heard on the video shot by his body camera asking the man to comply so the deputy can get him to the safety of his father’s home a few feet away. The deputy repeatedly told the man he did not want to take the man to jail, but the man did not comply.
Bowen and his agency should also be praised for the transparency they have shown in this case.
When Advocate reporter Jon Wilcox asked Bowen about the incident, he invited Wilcox to his office to talk about it.
He also showed Wilcox the deputy’s body cam video, allowing the journalist to see what happened that night after the deputy arrived.
Bowen could have ignored the paper’s request for information or begrudgingly turned over the information only after a public information request was made, but he did not.
He was open about what happened and the steps being taken to address those concerns.
This transparency paves the way for DeWitt County residents to know how the sheriff’s office operates.
Transparency goes a long way in developing the public’s trust.
Other public officials should take note of the sheriff’s willingness to be transparent about uncomfortable situations and follow suit.
Hiding behind a closed door is not the way to operate a public office.