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Ban sought but officers still carrying the stun guns
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Leaving the meeting with City Manager Clarence Monday (far right) are (from left) Tony Jones, president of Martinsville Branch 7078, NAACP; Malvester Dixon; the Rev. William Avon Keen, state president of the SCLC; and Sharlene English, Derek Jones’ mother. (Bulletin photo)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

By DEBBIE HALL - Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

Civil rights groups met with Martinsville officials Friday to urge a moratorium on the use of Tasers until an investigation into the death of a Martinsville teenager and additional study are completed.

A city spokesman responded, however, that Martinsville police officers still are allowed to use Tasers.

The Rev. William “Avon” Keen, state president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Tony Millner Jr., president, and Leonard Jones, past president of the Martinsville Branch 7089 of the NAACP — National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Sharlene English, Derek Jones’ mother, met with Martinsville City Manager Clarence Monday, Police Chief Mike Rogers and City Attorney Eric Monday behind closed doors for more than an hour Friday morning.

Their discussion was prompted by the Jan. 8 death of Derek Jones, 17, 307 Rives Road, Martinsville, after a Martinsville police officer deployed a Taser.

Police said Jones had been acting aggressively at the time and use of the Taser, which is considered a non-lethal device used to subdue people, was within the department’s guidelines.

In January, the SCLC called for a national moratorium on the use of Tasers, and that call was repeated in Friday’s meeting, Keen said.

He described the atmosphere as “cordial” during the meeting in which both sides shared information. He also said there also was an agreement by each side to continue to gather and share information.

“There needs to be a study done by local officials, city and state” officials, Keen said, and that could prompt legislation “in some areas” to govern the use of Tasers. Right now, rules on Taser use create a “gray area,” he added.

“We want some clarification” on when Tasers can be used, the number of deaths involved in their use and other information, Keen said. Then, a determination can be made as to whether Tasers are non-lethal or should be classified as “deadly force,” he added.

The police department also would benefit from “seeing how other police departments are using them,” Keen said. A study would “help all those involved” and also would help determine safety and their classification.

Representatives also invited city officials and police officers to participate in a forum on the subject tentatively set for at 11 a.m. April 4 at the Blue Ridge Library in Martinsville.

Rogers and Monday declined to comment after the meeting.

Martinsville Public Information Officer Scott Coleman, who was not in the meeting, said afterward it would be “inappropriate” for officers to participate in the forum because police policy is not “determined in public.”

Tasers are one of “several possible options” city officers can use, Coleman said, and that has not changed since Jones’ death. Uniformed officers also have a .45 caliber sidearm, which is considered lethal, a collapsible baton and pepper spray, he said.

Coleman said he does not think a Taser has been used since Jan. 8.

“We are regretful about the death. We are sympathetic to the family, but we have no reason to believe the officer acted improperly” when the Taser was used, Coleman said of Officer R.L. Wray, a two-year employee of the police department.

The incident began when police received a call from a passerby reporting “a subject standing in the middle of Rives Road using the bathroom,” Rogers has said. A second caller reported “two male subjects were in the road yelling or fighting with each other” about a minute after the first call was received.

Wray was the first officer to respond, arriving at the Rives Road duplex Jones shared with his mother within five minutes. There, he saw the front door of the duplex standing open and a white male enter the apartment and run up the stairway inside, police have said. There also were signs of forced entry, and blood was visible on an interior wall, according to police.

Wray told the white male to come back down the steps. He told the second teen, later identified as Jones, to come out of what police later learned was a kitchen, according to police.

As Jones came out of the kitchen and “moved rapidly toward” Wray “in an offensive stance,” the Taser was deployed, police have said.

The second officer to arrive at the scene, E.W. Dillard, handcuffed the white male and put him into a police cruiser, according to witnesses.

Wray then found Jones unresponsive and immediately began administering CPR, police have said. Martinsville Fire & EMS crews then arrived and continued those efforts. Jones was pronounced dead at Memorial Hospital of Martinsville.