OCEAN CITY — Months after adding Electronic Control Devices, or Tasers, to its crime-fighting arsenal, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) has used the device a handful of times this year, including an incident late Tuesday night.
Last October, the Ocean City Mayor and Council approved a pilot program for the acquisition and use of Tasers by the police department and a limited number of OCPD officers started carrying them in February. In the months since, OCPD officers have resorted to the use of a Taser on several occasions and the new tool in the toolbox has achieved the desired results.
“Our officers have used them a handful of times under certain situations and the Tasers have done exactly what they’re supposed to do,” said OCPD spokesman Pfc. Mike Levy. “Tasers have been used in situations where almost all other options have been exhausted and they’ve become an effective tool at our disposal.”
The most recent case occurred late Tuesday night when police deployed a Taser on a disorderly suspect who allegedly continued to resist arrest after officers exhausted all other means at their disposal. Around 11:45 p.m. on Tuesday, OCPD officers on bike patrol in the area of 15th Street and Wilmington Lane observed a suspect later identified as Dylan Richard Thomas, 19, of Shaverton, Pa., strike the trunk of a vehicle stopped at a red light at 15th Street. According to the police report, the officers heard Thomas strike the vehicle from half a block away.
According to the police report, Thomas allegedly unleashed an expletive-laden tirade against the female driver of the vehicle, whom he reportedly did not know and with whom he had no prior contact. When questioned, Thomas told police he didn’t strike the vehicle, but fell into it. When questioned further, Thomas asked police “So what if I [expletive deleted] hit the car.”
At that point, an OCPD officer attempted to place Thomas under arrest for disorderly conduct and ordered the suspect to put his hands behind his back. Thomas, who appeared intoxicated, launched a few more expletives at the officer, who was able to get one of the suspect’s hands cuffed. According to police reports, Thomas then spun around, struck the officer in the chest with his elbow and assumed a fighting stance.
The arresting officer, noting in his report the only open area on Thomas’ body was his face, struck Thomas once in the face with a closed fist. Thomas continued to flail his arms, striking another officer in the shoulder and arm.
The other officer then performed an angle kick to Thomas’ right leg while the first officer got the suspect to the ground with a modified arm bar take. According to the police report, Thomas continued to resist and shout expletives. Thomas was on the ground with his hands in closed fists under his body and refused to comply with several commands to stop resisting arrest.
Finally, one of the officers stepped back and presented his Taser and told Thomas to stop resisting or he was going to use it. When Thomas still did not comply, the officer yelled “Taser” three times and fired his ECD at the suspect, but both probes failed to hit their mark. The officer then repeated the procedure, offering another warning, but the probes missed their mark again. Finally, the officer knelt on Thomas’ back and performed a “drive stun” to the center of the suspect’s back, after which Thomas allegedly said “OK, stop,” according to police reports.
Tuesday’s incident was just one of several this year during which the OCPD has resorted to its new weapon to control. Deployment guidelines assert a police officer may use a Taser when confronted with active aggression or resistance, although its use should be preceded by a verbal warning when practical. If an officer is faced with less than active resistance, but there is a reasonable expectation the situation will worsen, or attempts to control a suspect using other tactics would be unsafe, the officer may deploy the Taser, according to the guidelines.
Officers confronting a subject with a medical or mental condition should evaluate alternative force options available prior to an ECD deployment as a means to gain compliance, guidelines say. Levy said OCPD officers have used Tasers in cases where traditional methods of restraining suspects have not gained compliance.
“Just like pepper spray or a baton, if an officer is in a situation where they have exhausted all other means of bringing a suspect under control, they’re going to use them if available,” he said. “There have been a handful of incidents where they have been used and they’re proven to be an effective tool at our disposal if needed.”
Under the pilot program, the town purchased 14 Tasers thus far and the officers carrying them have undergone extensive training. According to the general orders, a Taser should never be used in a punitive or unjust manner. Each incident is extensively documented and town officials will closely monitor the success of the program, which will be re-evaluated.