COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The condition of a man injured in a Taser-related fall improved yesterday as the Mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement asking the Columbia Police Department to postpone a planned deployment of the stunning devices to more officers.
Phillip McDuffy fell about 15 feet off the Providence Road pedestrian bridge at Interstate 70 after police used two Tasers against him during a standoff after he made a suicide threat. McDuffy, 45, was in fair condition last night at University Hospital, an improvement from critical condition a day earlier.
Police said he suffered two broken arms, a skull fracture and possible broken jaw after landing on a concrete embankment below the pedestrian bridge at theof the 11/2-hour standoff. Police used two Tasers in trying to subdue McDuffy, though only the second device immobilized him after he had moved away from police on a ledge along the pedestrian bridge.
McDuffy's brother, Burt McDuffy, told the Tribune yesterday he did not want to talk about the incident but said a lot of family members were angry about it.
An ex-girlfriend of McDuffy, Veina Johnson, questioned the police use of Tasers, changing a position she had taken hours after the incident. She said her earlier opinion of the episode was based on what police told her at the scene. Since viewing a news video of the incident, she's changed her mind.
"They could have killed him," Johnson said of police. "They said they did that to save him, but they hurt him."
Johnson also said she wonders if police purposefully made family, friends and other spectators get back from the bridge before using the Tasers so no one would see their use.
Darryl Jackson, 25, said he considers McDuffy an uncle and mentor because he dated Jackson's aunt for years. Jackson said he hopes the situation will help police better understand when to use the devices.
"You can't just go around Tasing people, especially if they have heart conditions," he said, adding that Phillip McDuffy previously suffered two heart attacks.
Police Capt. Zim Schwartze said Friday she had ordered officers to clear areas around the bridge because seeing family and friends was agitating McDuffy. Police said it is standard procedure not to allow family to talk to a suicidal person because the person might use that as an opportunity to say a final goodbye.
Schwartze said McDuffy had been arrested by police numerous times, that he does not like police and that information from family members led them to believe that he could have been armed with a gun.
The president of the Mid-Missouri chapter of the ACLU, Julia Bonham, issued a statement last night expressing concern over the incident.
"To avoid similar situations in the future, we strongly encourage the Columbia Police Department to postpone further expansion of Taser use until a thorough study can be conducted to investigate Taser's safety in use," Bonham said in the prepared statement. "Therefore, we are calling on the city council to appoint a task force to study the usage, safety and effectiveness of the" weapons.
Similar concerns have been expressed by other citizen groups in the past weeks, after a city council vote last month to accept a federal grant that will double the amount of officers carrying Tasers.