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Gettysburg releases partially redacted Taser report

Written by Lillian Reed/Hanover Evening Sun | Sep 12, 2016 9:23 AM
redacted_taser_gettysburg.jpg

Members of the public can now read portions of a 55-page report on the Gettysburg Borough police, which reviews department operations and the handling of an incident where an officer used a Taser on a man. More than 40 pages, like the one pictured, have been partially or completely redacted. (Photo: Lillian Reed, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) -- The borough of Gettysburg has released a partially redacted 55-page report on its police department Friday, which includes recommendations stemming from the controversy over an officer's use of a Taser during a May 2015 arrest.

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ordered Gettysburg officials in August to release portions of the report, which borough staff were keeping confidential because it involved personnel. More than 40 pages were partially or totally redacted, in accordance with the state's ruling.

The 55-page document lists more than 80 recommendations for the Gettysburg Police Department to implement, though some were redacted. Some recommendations related to overall policy suggest the department change its Taser use policy to prohibit the use of drive stuns or require the officer to articulate the reason for using drive stuns.

A drive stun is a mode of use on Tasers where the person using the stun gun physically touches the body, as opposed to shooting out wires, Gettysburg Police Chief Joseph Dougherty said Friday.

"Although policy and training indicate the use of drive stuns are discouraged, there are multiple instances of drive stuns being used multiple times," law enforcement consultant Robert McNeilly said in the report.

McNeilly also found systemic problems in how the department manages use of force reports, citizen complaints, performance evaluations, early intervention in officer performance and department records.

The problems were articulated as follows:

  • Use of force reports were not sufficient enough in detail.
  • The process for filing a citizen complaint was difficult. 
  • Performance evaluations were not given after a new hire completed 12 weeks of field training.
  • The department had no system to track critical officer performance measures, including disciplinary cases, use of force and citizen complaints.
  • Problems were discovered regarding department records that should be available to all supervisors.

Gettysburg officials plan to implement policies that will "foster open communication and better interaction with the public, to include the consideration of policy recommendations contained in Mr. McNeilly's report," a Friday news release from the borough states. No timeline was given for implementation.

Gettysburg Borough Council hired McNeilly, a retired Pittsburgh police chief, last fall to conduct an independent review of the police department and the handling of an incident where an officer used a Taser on a man.

Officer Christopher Folster's body camera footage shows him using a Taser to subdue Derek J. Twyman, who had refused orders to get out of his car after he was pulled over for allegedly violating a protection from abuse order. Twyman was later acquitted of resisting arrest.

Folster and Sgt. Larry Runk both resigned from the department as part of a negotiated settlement over the summer. Borough officials have not clarified Runk's involvement in the Taser incident.

The state's ruling concluded that the portions of the report related to the Taser incident are not subject to disclosure. Still, any information relating to overall department policy must be made public, a borough news release states.

Another report penned by Gettysburg legal counsel Neva Stotler will not need to be released, the state ruled.

In the months leading up to the state's ruling, several Gettysburg residents and business owners attended monthly meetings and workshops to issue complaints with the way council members responded to the Taser incident and handled the purchase and release of the police report. Among their grievances were council's perceived lack of transparency, the strained relationship between council and the police department and the cost of the report, which exceed its cap of $7,500 to total more than $10,000.

For months, council members declined to discuss or even acknowledge the existence of the report publicly.

Along with releasing the report Friday, the borough also distributed copies of seven signed confidentiality agreements bearing the names of six members of borough council and former Mayor William Troxell, who resigned for health reasons in May.

The agreements state the signer will not discuss the report or disclose to anyone that the document even exists.

Council president Robert Krummerich, the lone council member whose name was absent on the confidentiality agreements, stated publicly last month that he believed he had signed the agreement but could not remember if he had handed it back to borough staff or taken it home to keep in his safe.

This article is part of a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

Published in Adams County, News

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