I’ve been assuming that the forthcoming ban on using a cellphone while driving is just an unenforceable piece of symbolic politics unlikely to do any harm. I still think that’s right, but this story from the States of a woman being pulled over for allegedly talking on a cellphone, tased, arrested, and having her kids left in a freezing car for 40 minutes made me think twice:
In January, an Onondaga County sheriff’s deputy pulled over Audra Harmon, who had two of her kids with her in her minivan. A routine traffic stop escalated quickly.
The deputy, Sean Andrews, accused her of talking on her cell phone. She said she could prove him wrong.
He said she was speeding. She denied it and got out of the van. He told her to get back in. She did, then he ordered her back out.
He yanked her out by the arm, knocked her down with two Taser shots and charged her with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. His rationale on the disorderly conduct charge: She obstructed traffic when she got out of the van. The speeding accusation: going 50 mph in a 45-mph zone. (…)
Andrews told Harmon he’d seen her using her cell phone while she was driving. In the video, he makes a phone gesture with his hand. She told him she’d been driving with her right hand on her cheek, but that she hadn’t talked on the phone for at least two hours. She says she offered to let him look at the phone to see for himself. He declined. (…)
“Are you OK? Do you need help?” [witnesses] Santorelli and her father yelled, according to Santorelli’s statement to deputies.
“I’m not OK, and I do need help,” Harmon responded. As Andrews picked her up and escorted her to his car, Harmon pleaded with the witnesses.
“Please come get my kids!” Harmon remembers yelling. The witnesses said they couldn’t do that, but they asked Harmon for her home number so they could call her husband. She gave it to them.
“I wanted these strangers to get my kids, because at that point I thought they’d be safer with strangers,” Harmon says. The kids sat in the car for about 40 minutes until their father arrived and took them home, which was about 500 yards away, she says.
Harmon said she wants to teach police a lesson: It’s OK to admit you’re wrong. She said Andrews manufactured the speeding charge once he realized she didn’t deserve a cell phone ticket. Andrews had not clocked her with a radar gun. Instead, he said in a report, he calculated her speed by following her for “several seconds.”
“I want the public to know these police officers apparently aren’t being trained well enough to know when it is justified to use a Taser,” she said.
I don’t think training is the problem. Cops are using tasers to make their jobs easier, and are not forced to answer for their unjustified use. Cases like these normally involve an inquiry, but the officer is almost invariably found to be faultless. The only way to make cops less brutal is to make them more accountable. The actions of this uniformed thug were morally equivalent to assault and kidnapping; he should be punished accordingly.