Officer Cleared In Taser Incident

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A Payson Police Department inquiry has determined that officer Joni Varga was justified in using a Taser stun gun on a handcuffed suspect, in spite of three eye witnesses who said the officer used excessive force.

"It is my finding that the use of Taser was within policy of the Payson Police Department, as well as in compliance with the laws of the state of Arizona," Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner wrote in the inquiry.

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Joni Varga

Police records show that three witnesses -- Carol La Valley, Buck Buckner and Archie Abeyta -- told Commander Don Engler during the course of his administrative review, that they believed the deployment of the Taser was unjustified.

Varga used the Taser June 19 on 31-year-old Roy McMillen following a pursuit that ended on West Johnson Street in Payson Ranchos. Police said McMillen had been firing a pistol near Houston Mesa Road outside town limits, and in the 300 block of West Corral Circle.

La Valley -- a Payson Roundup reporter who witnessed the arrest -- submitted a written statement to Gartner in which she questioned the use of the Taser.

"I do believe the officer who shot him used excessive force," she wrote.

According to La Valley, Varga discharged her Taser at McMillen as he stood handcuffed amid four officers.

Payson Police Officer Chad DeSchaaf, the suspect's brother-in-law, disputed La Valley's account.

"In my opinion the Taser was very effective and deployed properly," said DeSchaaf in the incident report. "The situation that continued to gradually escalate was de-escalated and no one got injured. (McMillen) failed to comply with verbal commands and by me trying to physically hold him back."

Varga defended her actions.

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The Taser X-26 is used by the Payson Police Department.

"I believe I used the amount and duration of force necessary to overcome resistance and bring the incident under control, taking into consideration the safety of the suspect, as well as all officers involved," she said.

Buckner told Engler two days after the incident that he had watched the entire arrest and believed Varga's actions were inappropriate.

Abeyta, who lives in the area, reported to Engler that the suspect didn't try to flee or attack officers.

Gila County Sheriff's deputies, Jamie Garrett and Terry Neff, who were also at the scene, told Engler that they were busy with other duties when Varga deployed the Taser, and did not see any actions leading up to it.

Garrett did report that McMillen used profanity and she notice his behavior becoming more erratic.

After reviewing the evidence, Gartner ruled that Varga was justified in using the Taser because McMillen was trying to break free of DeSchaaf and attack Neff.

According to reports, during the arrest, McMillen threatened Neff saying, "If I pointed my gun, there's a pretty good chance in 30 seconds or less you'd be dead."

After stopping McMillen, Neff discovered a handgun in the suspect's truck.

"It would appear on the surface inappropriate to Taser a handcuffed suspect, but it is within our policy and done by other police agencies around the country," Gartner said.

"One kick in the knee from the suspect could have been a life-changing, career-ending event."

Taser under attack

The vindication of Varga follows a recent wrongful death lawsuit against the stun gun manufacturer, Taser International, and an all-out attack on the Scottsdale-based firm by several human rights organizations including Amnesty International.

The family of a 24-year old man who died after Phoenix police shocked him during a confrontation filed the lawsuit.

Amnesty International reported he was the 110th person in the past six years to die after being shot by one of the new-generation X-26 Tasers.

Although medical examiners have not listed the Taser as the cause of death in all of those cases, they did not rule it out as a contributing cause.

Amnesty International has expressed concerns about deaths and ill treatment involving police use of Tasers.

"(Tasers) have been used against unruly school children, disturbed or intoxicated individuals, suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command," an Amnesty International study concluded.

Officials at Taser responded by saying they would defend their product against the suit, saying that Tasers are among the safest means to subdue violent individuals.

Taser has launched a media campaign to support the effectiveness of the stun guns, which the company reported are deployed by 87 percent of law enforcement agencies before using pepper spray.

Gartner is among those who support the use of Tasers.

"If they were taken off the street, it is my opinion that would lead to an increase in deadly force and an increase in injuries to officers," he said.

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