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COCC professor weighs in on police Taser use

By Kim Tobin
Published On: Aug 23 2012 08:32:34 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 23 2012 08:57:08 PM CDT

NewsChanel 21's Kim Tobin spoke with a Criminal Justice Department professor from COCC about the ongoing investigation into a Bend man's death after an altercation with police.

BEND, Ore. -

After a Bend man with health problems died at St. Charles this week following a struggle with police, a criminal justice professor from COCC weighed in Thursday on the hot-button issue of police use of Tasers.

Jerry Nichols, 64, was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from a lung condition called COPD and other medical complications. Bend police said Nichols became violent in the ER and attacked St. Charles medical staff on Sunday, August 12th.

Officer Stephen Craig, a 13-year Bend police veteran, used his Taser during the confrontation, but authorities said it was "ineffective" and he had to slap ("open hand strike) the man, who fell seated on the ground and had to be restrained.. Eight days later, Nichols died in the hospital.

"It was a tragedy on both sides -- a tragedy for the family of the victim and in some ways a tragedy for the police department," said COCC criminal justice professor Kathleen McCabe.

"There are other methods you could use, but we weren't there at the time. He used what he believed was enough force to get the subject to stop his actions."

McCabe worked in a Michigan police department for 25 years, doing everything from undercover work to counseling family members.

"It's horrible to Monday morning quarterback an officer's decision," McCabe said. "He used an acceptable measure of compliance, with tragic results."

Barbara Nichols was married to Jerry for 15 years. She spoke with NewsChannel 21 the day after she lost her husband.

"They said they Tased him, and he collapsed and his heart stopped," Barbara Nichols said. "So they came out and resuscitated him. And they had him on the ventilator when they came out and told me."

Authorities are awaiting autopsy results to see what role if any the Taser use played in Nichols' death.

According to Taser International Inc., the devices have been used by police more than 1.6 million times. It's been listed as a cause of death in fewer than 50 instances.

"Until all the facts surrounding this unfortunate incident are known, it is inappropriate to jump to conclusions on the cause of death," Vice President of Communications Steve Tuttle said in a statement. "These tragic cases represent a small percentage of arrests, where it has saved more than 94,000 lives from death or serious injury."

When it comes to a possible lawsuit, McCabe says there could be a case, but it's up to the family if they want to take it to court.

"There have been payoffs for Taser use," said McCabe. "It's all about economics sometimes with lawsuits. Is it cheaper to pay off a family? Is it cheaper to fight a lawsuit? Is the Taser company going to be sued?"

An autopsy is under way, but authorities said results could take weeks.

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