The Isla Vista Foot Patrol (IVFP) put its newest weapons to the test recently, using Taser X26 stun guns to bring down two suspects who could not be restrained by police officers.
In two unrelated incidents, IVFP deputies armed with Tasers used the nonlethal weapons to subdue 25-year-old Edward Williams and 46-year-old Juan Azar. Williams, a Santa Barbara City College student, was tased and arrested at 6566 Del Playa Dr. at approximately 11 p.m. Friday, April 29, for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. Police said they observed Azar throwing bicycles onto the sidewalk and planter boxes of 851 Camino Pescadero at approximately 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30. The police report of the incident stated that Azar became resistant when the officers contacted him and he had to be tased twice before he could be taken into custody.
Both Azar and Williams said they felt that the deputies used their Taser guns unnecessarily. Williams said he is currently working with his lawyer to file a civil suit against the IVFP, and Azar said he is in the process of writing a letter of complaint to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept.
According to the police report of Williams’ arrest, he confronted several deputies in front of the residence at 6566 Del Playa Dr. The report stated that Williams blew marijuana smoke in the face of one of the deputies and ignored the subsequent commands to sit down on the sidewalk. When the officers could not control Williams after repeated attempts to wrestle him to the ground and handcuff him, one of the deputies deployed his Taser, hitting Williams in the upper torso and bringing his resistance to an end.
Williams was found to have less than an ounce of marijuana in his possession and also had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, the report said. Williams was charged with disturbing the peace and resisting a peace officer, and was transported to the Santa Barbara County Jail.
Police said deputies contacted Azar after they saw him throw a bike on the sidewalk in front of the residence at 851 Camino Pescadero, then turn around and throw another bike into the planter box. Azar, who speaks little English, did not comply when the officers instructed him to sit down, the police report stated.
Azar then resisted the deputies’ attempts to handcuff him, but the report stated that he momentarily became compliant when one of the officers brandished a Taser. However, Azar reportedly resumed struggling and was tased two times before deputies were finally able to restrain him.
After the officers handcuffed Azar, he was transported to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital for medical clearance before being booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail on charges of resisting arrest and refusing to comply with a peace officer.
At the time of his contact with the officers, Williams said, he was walking down the street smoking a cigarette. He said he exhaled smoke in the officers’ direction as he passed by them, at which point one of the deputies grabbed his arm and began trying to force him into a sitting position.
Williams said the officers did not give him any warning before they tased him, and he said he was also struck in the head with a flashlight during the incident.
“Had the officers never assaulted me in the first place, I would have sat down and answered the questions, but they assaulted me and then asked me questions,” Williams said. “They had a shoot first, ask questions later attitude – or rather, ‘tase-first’ attitude.”
Margie Rivera, Azar’s wife, said she witnessed the entire string of events that led to his arrest. She said Azar was moving the bikes off of their property, and only resisted the officers because he had difficulty understanding their instructions and because they were hurting him.
“They really had absolutely no reason to tase him and they tased him twice,” Rivera said. “As far as I am concerned, it was abuse.”
IVFP Lt. Sol Linver said the IVFP obtained 270 Taser guns in late December 2004 to better equip deputies to deal with violent or resistive subjects. Linver said officers that choose to carry Tasers must first complete a training course to learn how to use the weapons, which fall into the same force level category as police batons and pepper spray.
“So far I feel that they have been an effective option,” Linver said. “We’ve had several situations citywide in which Tasers have been deployed. In those situations where they’ve been used effectively, there have been no serious injuries.”
Linver said the IVFP has only deployed the Tasers three times so far, and he said he does not foresee any major increases in the use of the weapon. He said the deputies who tased Williams and Azar were justified in their use of force to subdue the resisting subjects.
“Anytime we use force on anyone, they are going to complain,” Linver said.
– Matt Dozier contributed to this article