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June 30, 2013
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Publisher’s Notebook: Despite best intentions, police killed mentally ill man

I’ll always give the cops the benefit of the doubt when it comes to dealing with bad guys. It’s dirty work nobody else wants to do, but society needs it done in order to survive.

Every once in awhile, however, there are police actions that raise an eyebrow and rightfully beg for an answer. Our ability to question those actions is what separates us from a “Police State.”

Such is the case with 56-year-old Gregory Price, who died after being hit with a Taser by Roseburg Police out in front of the Douglas County Courthouse last week.

He was the second Douglas County man to die in custody this year. A 26-year-old man died in March after being arrested in Canyonville. The investigation into that death has not been released.

According to reports, Price was arrested the night before he died after causing problems at Diamond Lake Resort. By all accounts, Price was not in a good mental state. His wife said he suffered a mental illness and was on medication. She said he also had a bad heart.

Reports indicate he was driving dangerously close to the guest cabins and refusing to stop. Deputies were eventually called and they took him to jail. He was booked just after 2 a.m. Saturday and held for roughly 12 hours, when a judge determined there was no cause to keep him behind bars.

That’s when things apparently got out of hand. Police reports say Price was “jumping on cars” out in front of the courthouse when they arrived. They asked him to stop and Price refused, according to reports.

OK. Now what? You have a large, agitated man jumping up and down on cars within earshot of the county courthouse and he won’t respond to your repeated requests to come down. You can’t shoot him because, well, we don’t shoot people for jumping on cars. You really can’t send three or four cops up on the cars with police batons because, well, think Rodney King.

I suspect the people who owned the cars Price was jumping on were expecting the cops to get Price off before he caved in a roof, or hood. It’s part of the “protect and serve” thing we pay taxes for. Besides, I happen to like my truck and don’t think I’d stand there while Price stomped it. I might even grab a baseball bat.

So the cops did what they thought was the only thing left to do. They pulled out the pepper spray and Taser and let Price have it. He collapsed and died as officers were administering CPR.

Amnesty International reports that at least 42 people from across 20 states died last year after being struck by police Tasers, bringing the total number of deaths since 2001 to 540. “Tasers have been listed as a cause or contributory factor in more than 60 deaths,” Amnesty’s website claims. “Most of those who died after being struck with a Taser were not armed and did not appear to pose a serious threat when the Taser was deployed.”

The human rights organization went on to state that the American Heart Association published a report showing the “first, scientific, peer-reviewed evidence concluding that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death.” The study analyzed data from autopsy reports, medical records and other information from eight cases in which individuals lost consciousness after being shocked with a Taser X26 weapon.

Tasers and pepper spray are designed to provide a non-lethal response to a threat. Again, we want our law enforcement officers to protect and serve, so we need to give them an ability to do so. Amnesty International does not track the number of serious threats that were stopped by cops using Tasers. Nor do they track the number of innocent lives that may have been saved.

Absent a Taser, how were the Roseburg Police officers supposed to get Price off the cars in the middle of a Saturday afternoon? Wait for him to tire himself out? Should we issue cops a lasso?

Still, a 56-year-old man died out in front of Douglas County’s hall of justice after police deployed a Taser and pepper spray. That much we know for sure. What we don’t know is why and whether there was anything the cops could have done differently that day.

“We all just can’t believe it,” the victim’s wife, Laurel Price, told us. “We just wonder why did he have to die?”

Officials said they are awaiting the results of an autopsy and that the investigation is in the hands of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (since the Roseburg Police Department was involved in the event).

Price’s family deserves some answers and so does a community that expects a lot from the men and women we ask to protect us. Great responsibility carries a good measure of accountability.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Jun 30, 2013 12:04AM Published Jul 1, 2013 10:12AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.