On Tuesday, a man named Allen Kephart ran a stop sign in Blue Jay, California, according to reports. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputies pursued Kephart, who pulled over in a gas station parking lot about a quarter mile away. Kephart got out of the car and "became combative and uncooperative," according to a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman, so the cops on the scene Tasered him. He lost consciousness. The cops administered CPR and took Kephart to a local hospital. There, he was pronounced dead. Kephart was 43.
The story's been reported pretty widely today, and it's safe to say that no one writing about it has taken the side of the cops. "Sheriffs Kill Innocent Man With Taser," is how the libertarian magazine Reason announces the story. "That's yet another example of what a 'non-lethal' weapon can do in the hands of overzealous cops," writes Gawker's Jeff Neumann, linking to a post about a similar incident in Connecticut that happened earlier this month.
Alyona Minkovski at the libertarian blog The Agitator points out that Blue Jay "is by no means a dangerous place where police should be expecting armed criminals to hop out of cars at routine traffic stops." Minkovski asserts that "the irresponsibility with which law enforcement officials shoot off their taser guns does make them murderers." And left-leaning blogger Heather Parton, better known as Digby, argues along the same lines:
Perhaps this fellow really was so out of control that they had no choice. But I've seen enough of these things at this point to believe that the onus is on the police officers to prove it. Nobody should die because they ran a stop sign unless they pulled a deadly weapon on the police who stopped them and the officer had no choice but to defend themselves.
Given the circumstances of Kephart's death, it's not hard to see why people are reacting with such vehement anti-Taser sentiment. According to reports, Kephart, a DJ and teacher's assistant, never had a criminal charge stronger than a traffic ticket. He had no history of mental illness or drug use. And his father, Alfred, is a 20-year volunteer with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
"He's never raised a hand in 43 years," Alfred Kephart said of his son. "He goes to church three times a week. He does the audio for the church in Crestline. He works three jobs."