Tased and contused: After injuries, Albemarle PD redraws policy

news-taserman-videoHandcuffed Hogberg drops like a stone as the Taser barbs meet his skin, as seen in the Newsplex video. [Click photo to see video.]

In the wake of a controversial captured-on-video incident in which an unarmed, handcuffed man was injured after the jolt of a Taser, the Albemarle Police Department has redrawn its policy to ban such actions in the future. However, the 56 pages of documents developed in conjunction with the Department's internal investigation will remain sealed.

The incident occurred November 28 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. Police had arrested Michael Dennis Hogberg for being drunk in public at the football game between UVA and visiting Virginia Tech, where Hogberg has been a student.

While shooting festive game-day scenes, an alert Newsplex videographer named Marequiz Johnson notices the commotion and quickly pans his camera toward Hogberg as the young man suddenly flees the police van where he was being processed for being drunk in public.

As several officers give chase, one of them whips out a Taser and shoots Hogberg from behind. Thousands of volts of electricity course through Hogberg's body, and his face and body impact what appears to be an asphalt curb.

"It's a disgrace," says a senior law enforcement official in an adjacent jurisdiction. "This is one of those things that makes me embarrassed to be a cop."

This law enforcement official, citing the need for amicable badge-to-badge relations, declined to be identified, but he did explain his thinking.

"You're telling me that five cops can't rein in one drunk kid with his hands cuffed behind his back?" says the official. "Being a cop is all about maintaining order, and busting that kid's face against the pavement is a disruption of order."

Albemarle County brass seem to agree. In a recent revision of its Taser policy, Albemarle–- while still allowing non-probed Tasing of certain collared suspects–- now bans shooting Taser barbs into handcuffed or fleeing prisoners.

To criminal justice expert Lorie Fridell, who has seen the video of what happened to Hogberg, the policy revision, released February 20, is a welcome change.

albemarle-county-police-taser-policy-revisedClick image to read new ban on Tasering handcuffed prisoners; click here for entire Albemarle Taser policy [PDF].

"The thought that they Tased him with his hands behind his back made me cringe," says Fridell, a a faculty member at the University of South Florida.

Fridell explains that the Taser works by shooting two electricity-conducting darts that immobilize muscles, causing anyone standing, walking, or running to drop instantly

"Anyone running at top speed who has their muscles taken out from them it's not going to be pretty," says Fridell. "It can cause a lot of harm when that person goes down."

Fridell recalls that when she voluntarily got Tased as part of her training, she had the benefit of "two big burly officers on each side." Hogberg had no such support.

As seen in the video, Hogberg instantly, helplessly slumps to the pavement. He later gave an interview to the Newsplex in which he revealed facial cuts, contusions, and a chipped tooth.

At the time of the incident, an Albemarle police spokesperson pointed out that there were various roads nearby, so the Taser might have prevented Hogberg from more serious harm. However, the video shows the Tasing occurred after Hogberg and his pursuers had already crossed Alderman Road in the direction of some of UVA's first-year dormitories.

"They claimed he was going to get out in traffic, but I didn't see that on the video," says Hogberg's attorney, David Heilberg, who calls the incident "certainly a use of excessive force."

According to Albemarle's use-of-force-policy–- which already limits Taser use to controlling "a dangerous or violent subject"–- an unnecessary use of force doesn't need to cause any injury to be defined as one. "It is merely the use of a certain level of physical force when none or a lesser level was necessary."

County Police Chief John Miller declined to discuss the incident but, through a spokesperson, referred questions about the policies to Sergeant Darrell Byers.

"We review all use-of-force incidents," said Byers. "This led to a reevaluation and some minor changes to our policy."

The Taser was developed in the 1990s by a private company now called Taser International, which touts the devices as a non-lethal alternative to using a gun to rein in criminals.

"Taser systems use proprietary technology," says the company website, "to immediately incapacitate dangerous, combative, or high-risk individuals who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens, or themselves."

In recent years, as the Taser has gained popularity with police departments, so have allegations of misuse. There was the infamous "Don't Tase me, Bro" incident with a disruptive student at a 2007 political event. Two years later, a New York mom suspected of speeding was Tased in front of her kids and later won a $75,000 settlement. And earlier this month, an officer and a former officer in Desert Hot Springs, California, were criminally charged with using excessive force for Tasing unarmed people in their custody.

Albemarle County records show no such criminal charges lodged against Officer Kudro, who continues to be employed as an officer. And county spokesperson Lee Catlin says that 56 pages of documents developed in the investigation of the incident are treated as personnel records under the state freedom of Information law, so they won't be released to the public.

As for Hogberg, he is a Blacksburg resident and, according to the registrar, a 2006 graduate of Virginia Tech, where he majored in Agriculture and Life Sciences. Online Albemarle County court records show he is no stranger to the Albemarle justice system, having two prior alcohol-fueled incidents that resulted in DUI convictions–- including one in which he appears to have hit-and-run some unattended property.

He declined to be interviewed for this story, but his attorney concedes that in running from police, Hogberg acted foolishly, Heilberg calls Hogberg "a real nice young man and very accepting of his responsibility."

After the men in blue scraped Hogberg off the pavement, in addition to his original drunk-in-public charge, Hogberg was charged with felony escape, a "ridiculous" attempt, the lawyer says, to gain leverage for a plea deal.

In the ensuing plea, Hogberg was convicted of two misdemeanors and given a 30-day sentence, with 20 days suspended.

In 2007, the Department of Justice and the Police Executive Research Forum released a study calling for national standards on the use of Tasers, including a push for restraint when using such devices on handcuffed individuals–- "unless they are actively resisting or exhibiting active aggression."

Attorney Heilberg notes that despite his client's disinterest in filing any civil litigation against the county, Albemarle went farther than the national study in revising its Taser policy by banning probe-equipped Tasing of any handcuffed people.

"I'm really glad that, without being pressured, they did the right thing," says Heilberg. "That says something good about the Albemarle Police Department."

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As a Tech graduate daring to come and get drunk here in Charlottesville, he obviously had it coming.

Cops and sociopaths are often two sides of the same coin.

Hate to say it, but if you run from the police, you get what you get. There are a lot of "what if's" to think about - what if there were children in the vicinity, what if he had knocked down other people - then we would be saying that the cops didn't do enough. These "adults" need to grow up - it's no worse than people covering up the fact that recently a UVA student died because of excess partying and his "brothers" waited until the last minute to call 911 (and yes, I do know what happened) I hope my children have enough common sense.

quote: ââ?¬Å?It’s a disgrace,” says a senior law enforcement official in an adjacent jurisdiction. ââ?¬Å?This is one of those things that makes me embarrassed to be a cop.”

He/she is far from the being the only law enforcement officer in a 50 mile radius who felt this way.

Quote GSOE Well, no. How shall I explain this?

Yeah, that doesn’t really explain why it was dismissed. But, okay, whatever.

Quote GSOE I must be on drugs tonight!

That I might believe; JADE has been slacking lately in ââ?¬Å?effectively reducing the flow of drugs” into the community.

Well, no. How shall I explain this? Hhmmmm... I think this was pretty much a case of a young decent rookie being influenced by a questionable rookie sergeant... a rookie sergeant that I very quickly discovered had no sense of humor. If I had to take my best guess I would say this rookie sergeant was an implant from some place like Northern Virginia. I suspect he will end up getting some of his rookies in deep trouble sooner or later.

Can you believe I actually used the words "young decent rookie" above? I must be on drugs tonight! :)

Quote GSOE They don’t have 6 police cars show up on a simple traffic stop.

Well, that’s because they’re using their extra VSP officers for raids on female bloggers.

Although, I agree; the Virginia State Police are definitely a kinder, gentler batch of thugs.

quote "@Mom: Sorry, Mom, you don’t know what happened. And I hope you will offer more respect to those that do"

Please enlighten me. Why would you ever run from the police?? Maybe because you've done something wrong?? And by the way, I hope my kids have been brought up with common sense, but again, if they run from police, they put themselves in danger of getting hurt.

quote: "Hate to say it, but if you run from the police, you get what you get."

Until it's caught on video. Then the tables are turned and new policy is born. Unilke Byers was quoted above in this story as saying, I don't see this as "minor" change in policy.

@Mom: Sorry, Mom, you don't know what happened. And I hope you will offer more respect to those that do. May your offspring be bestowed with copious amounts of emergency circumstance common sense.

Also, I'm sure you will change your mind about "getting what you get" when you are faced with excessive force.

Look at the facts ascertained from the brief video footage. It is simple to see that any officer passing a physical fitness could detain the fleeing detainee.

I think it is time to decommission this "police force". During these tough economic times, we would be better served by utilizing the professional services of the state police. More money for the schools, less dead kids.

Quote GSOE (The charge was dismissed in court this morning.)

Probably because you, unlike most people, understand that, even in traffic court, it’s not up to you, the accused, to prove your innocence, rather the burden is on the officer to prove your guilt -- and him just declaring it isn’t enough.

The Mitchell event, as bad as it was, doesn't come close to the rookie (Flaherty) who knocked a pregnant girl (Blair Austin) down onto the pavement. Which brings up another good question... how does a taser affect an unborn fetus? I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

If I weren't so lazy I would apply for a grant to study what part of a cops brain gets excited when he tazers somebody....

I would imagine it is the same part that lights up when he makes a schoolgirl cry and suck up to him at a traffic stop.

The same one that lights up when he jumps out of his car, handcuffs a guy for telling him to slow down and pushes a pregnant woman...

The same one that lights up when he watches SWM porn....

just a hypothsis...

Hopefully this will bring some attention to Charlottesville's Police behavior. I've lived here all of my life, besides a few years away for school, and though I'm in my 20's I have witnessed a lot of excessive aggression used by our Police Officers. Maybe they're just bored, but they cling to stereotyping young adults (under 30) as punks. Perhaps this will raise the eyebrow of Chief Longo, who is a good man, but i hope it makes him pay attention to how some of his Officers are consistently treating Charlottesville's citizens.

People need to start wearing Kevlar undershirts to keep those barbs from penetrating. I saw one incident where the pigs, errr police officers, tried to tase a guy wearing one of those quilted parkas and it had no effect because the barbs never reached the skin.

One clearly recalls the ballyhoo attending the introduction of these devices as useful alternatives to firearm use, way back in the nineties. Since then "pain compliance" has become the standard use against anyone who is reluctant to snap to attention, or maybe reluctant to follow an unlawful order. The floodgates burst after 9/11 when law enforcement got a big boost from the surge in authoritarianism promoted from on high in the government and from the tsunami of federal money grants to East Roosterpoot "cop shoppes" to buy all the latest gadgets shilled in the "equipment porn" ads in trade journals and magazines published for the law enforcement community.

It is pretty fundamental that someone whose hands are cuffed behind his back isn't going far and his offensive potential limited. In the old days, they'd just chase him and put the grab on him instead of applying the remote control.

I don't think Longo is in town long enough to know what his troops are doing out on the streets. He spends a lot of time traveling the country giving speeches and seminars. He's in Texas this week.

There are a lot of reasons to run from the Police. The Police aren't perfect and can and do abuse their authority. I have also witnessed plenty of fine police work where the suspect was run to the ground and subdued WITHOUT a taser, and then cuffed and kept steady until the paddy wagon showed up.

In some ways a taser is far more dangerous than a fire arm, because people will be tempted to use it because it is supposedly less harmful, until someone really gets hurt, like this person.

The first time one of your children faces something, you'll be up in arms over just what is reasonable.

So I guess this all can lead to the joke:

"How many Albemarle cops does it take to catch a hand cuffed running drunk?"

Answer: 4 and a taser

Oh, I'm wrong...5 Albe cops and a taser.

Hey Mom;
Maybe they should have just shot him in the back?
If you are really a "Mom", how'd you like it if they did your kid that way. Don't be a cretin....

quote: "Maybe they should have just shot him in the back?"

I know you're being facetious, but Taser International says tasers were introduced as less-lethal weapons to be used by police to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous subjects, often when what they consider to be a more lethal weapon would have otherwise been used.

Do you see the magic words there? Straight from the horse’s mouth, Taser International ââ?¬â? "...when what they consider to be a more lethal weapon would have otherwise been used."

No law enforcement would have used a gun in this situation, therefore they should not have used a taser. That's my opinion and I am sticking to it. Tasers are the work of the devil BECAUSE they are being abused and misused so much in law enforcment nowadays. Seems like the Albemarle cop shoppe finally agrees even if they won't say it to the public in plain english.

"Department’s internal investigation will remain sealed."

seems to be par for the course of coverup .

TAZERS breed cop hater's .

maybe they are declaring open season on Hokies? Bet that this wouldnt have happened to someone wearing UVA colors.

hidingunderfakename, I have a different reading on it. I think it's their way of saying whether the cop was disciplined or not is nobodys business. And if past policy allowed a cop to taser a handcuffed and fleeing prisoner, I'm not sure they can discipline him anyway.

They save the coverups for much worse events. :)

Drug testing should include steroids.

If the tazee were injured while the tazors watched, prior to the tazing, would the tazors be responsible for the tazee's un-tazed condition or injuries as a result of an incident prior to being tazed- hum??????

Colfer, are you suggesting that steroids was the reason

5 healthy cops couldn't catch one handcuffed drunk?

Let's not forget the Excessive force used on Colby Eppard. It appears to me that there are some very high tensions in Albemarle County. I would assume that Morgan's murder along with the Colby Eppard case has the ACPO under a very fine microscope.

How can you assume that excessive force was used on Colby Eppard?

Boy...I am beginning to have a lot of doubts about some of the goings on of this police department. I would still be interested in seeing the dash camera films of what exactly happened in the pursuit and killing of Mr. Eppard.

I think a lot of people confuse excessive force with "overkill". A man shot 22 times is just as dead as one shot 93 times.

It has a lot to do with the "us vs them" mentality too. And perhaps the "we'll do as we please" mentality as well. Once they're unleashed, it's hard to reign it back in.

The state police are actually some pretty amazing individuals. They don't have 6 police cars show up on a simple traffic stop. They don't have prisoner partitions in their cars. And yet their fatality rate in the line of duty is just as low as any other cop shoppe. It's all in how you talk to people and treat people out here.

I was disturbed recently though when I viewed some images on I HeArTE JADE where they now allow the troopers to wear baseball caps. When the heck did this start? This and black tennis shoes are about the most unprofessional things any cop shoppe can allow.

They would have tasered Gerry Mitchell when he tried to cross the street in his wheelchair but the taser was in the shop so the next best thing was a squad car.

I got pulled over on April 3, 2010 for allegedly not giving a turn signal. Within a 10 minute time span, six city police cars arrived. The next time Longo whines about a shortage of manpower I can show the city council and taxpayers the dual video from my vehicle. Six patrol cars on one simple traffic stop. Insane. :)

(The charge was dismissed in court this morning.)

Quote GSOE They don’t have 6 police cars show up on a simple traffic stop.

Well, that’s because they’re using their extra VSP officers for raids on female bloggers.

Although, I agree; the Virginia State Police are definitely a kinder, gentler batch of thugs.

I just have to sat right thar is funny I dont care who you are !