Taser Letter Sent to Forest Service

(by friends of Rainbow press crew)

6-24-2008

To: Mark S. Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources & Environment, U.S.D.A.
Abigail Kimbell, Chief, U.S. Forest Service
Gene Smithson, Senior Special Agent, Incident Commander, U.S.F.S. Law Enforcement & Investigations
John C. Twiss, Director, U.S. F.S. Law Enforcement & Investigations
Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region (R-4)
Kim Christensen, Special Agent in Charge (R-4)

Re: Potential Taser use, Medical Concerns & Accountability in the U.S. National Forests

Gentlemen;

As peaceful Citizens of the United States of America who often assemble as individuals, under Constitutional Guarantees, with like-minded people in the Publicly Owned National Forests for religious, political and recreational purposes, we were disturbed to learn from an Associated Press News article that the legally-mandated stewards of our Forests, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) were to be armed with Tasers also known as Electronic Control Devices, beginning with this summer.

As Medical and/or Social Service Professionals we feel it incumbent upon ourselves to point out to you that Tasers are extremely dangerous and potentially lethal. According to Amnesty International there were over 275 deaths of individuals shortly after being tased by law enforcement officers between 2001 and 2007 in the United States. These deaths occurred when the Taser use was done by officials who were supposedly adequately trained – at least as much as and often quite a bit more than the USFS LEOs who will be so armed this summer. These deaths almost invariably occurred within a few miles of medical facilities, within relatively easy reach of Emergency Medical Technicians and licensed physicians. With few exceptions the victims were adult males and many of them were in relatively good health.

The New York Times reported over 300 such deaths and also reports 1- that many law enforcement agencies now refer to Tasers as being “less lethal” rather than “non-lethal” and 2- Only a little over one-third of “agencies [with Tasers are] distributing them to their entire forces,” -New York Times, June 15, 2008. Frequently Tasers are used on “unarmed people who pose no threat.” -William Dunham, Reuters, October 8, 2006.

In the case of the gatherers at Rainbow Events, a large number of the participants are young children, pregnant women, elderly persons and people with pre-existing medical conditions that include seizure disorders, cardiovascular insufficiencies and persons whose lives are dependent upon functioning pacemakers. To “mistakenly” use a Taser on any of these individuals, especially when the incidents would occur 3 hours or more distant from an adequate Trauma Center would be careless beyond description and would assuredly involve legal liabilities – civil and potentially criminal.

The Center for Alternative, Living Medicines (C.A.L.M.) is a volunteer group of health care professionals and support staff which attends Rainbow Gatherings, musical and other public events, inner city neighborhoods and even natural disasters to provide free, complementary health care for those in need. For the reasons given in the preceding paragraph, a CALM health care professional proposed to the U.S.F.S. during a June 6th conference call, that any person who is tased or in any way potentially injured whether by a Law Enforcement Official or someone else, shall have the opportunity to be evaluated by the on-site C.A.L.M. Medical Team and stabilized by them if necessary, before being transported off-site under custody.

Mr. Rey seemed to understand this need and to be willing to co-operate in this manner. Mr. Smithson however stated that he would only communicate with physicians who were licensed within and by the State of Wyoming and that is where the situation stands as of this writing to the best of our knowledge. As anyone who has attended the Rainbow Gatherings can attest, Mr. Rey and the USFS Foresters have no authority whatsoever over the L.E.O.s who operate under their own (or an unidentified) authority.

Mr. Smithson, the Commander of the Incident Command Team, seems to be the highest governing authority over all attending agencies except the State Health Department officials. The law will not support Mr. Smithson’s attitude regarding on-site health-care personnel. Evaluations and Stabilizations re seldom done in the field by licensed physicians. Any health care professional licensed in any state would be qualified, especially EMTs or Military-trained Medics. Medical Ethics and licensing requirements in numerous states legally require any licensed individual to evaluate and stabilize an injured person at least until properly relieved by Medical Authorities. Any person who has ever had any emergency health-care training would be morally required to provide evaluation and aid and would be protected under Wyoming’s Good Samaritan Law.

The Rainbow Gathering does not license nor “hire” health-care practitioners because Rainbow is simply individuals coming together with no organized resources other than each other. Whoever Mr. Smithson decides to recognize or not recognize as health care providers, the fact is that the health care professionals who will be onsite and to whom the Gatherers will turn for health care, advice and treatment, is CALM. It is unrealistic to suggest that CALM could function if limited to practitioners licensed only in the state in which an event takes place. A Wyoming licensed practitioner, for example, may or may not be capable of working within CALM’s event-specific structures. CALM is made up of a core group of volunteers from many states and even other countries who have worked together for decades in various states and whose service takes place wherever there is a need.

Additionally, the former director of the Wyoming Health Department, the Commander of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1988, the Vermont State Health Dept and various other state health care officials have investigated, worked among and lauded the C.A.L.M. operations and personnel. A Federal District Court has recognized C.A.L.M. as being the “tribe of folks” who take responsibility for Sanitation and Health Care at Rainbow Gatherings. And, in fact, the White House office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives recently invited a group of C.A.L.M./Rainbow people to thank them for their volunteer health care initiative at the Katrina disaster and the American Rainbow Rapid Response team was thus listed among the 100 top faith-based, community groups in the country.

Additional arming of the officers assigned to the annual Rainbow Tribal Peace and Healing Gatherings is uncalled for. There is no history of violence towards, or danger to, the officers present who are in possession of firearms were they to need to defend themselves. Tasers are not ever properly used as tools of general “crowd control”. [check out the following URLs, among literally hundreds on this subject: http://www.aclu-or.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Leg_localgovnmt_tasers ,   www.aclunc.org/police/051006-taser_report.pdf ,  and http://www.parc.info/client_files/UCLA/UCLA%20Taser%20Report%20August%20Final.pdf from the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC)]

This year the USFS has declared the Gathering to be “legal” (we of course contend that it has always been so under the permit of the U.S. Constitution’s guaranteed Freedom of Assembly) so the only possible reason for thus arming the force sent in to police this peaceful people is to enable the often barely trained, poorly supervised and historically adversarial law enforcement officers to carry out their excesses to the nth degree. Rainbow Gatherings are not and should not be a legally viable testing ground for the trainings officers have received. Meanwhile, you have repeatedly responded deceptively to, and failed to comply with, our requests for a copy of your official policy regarding the use of Tasers, sidearms and other forms of physical force. We again demand production of these papers as well as copies of any indemnification policies and/or bonds posted to cover the liabilities that may occur due to your employees’ excessive use of force.

Assigning LEOs to work the Rainbow Gatherings at all in unnecessary as Gatherers have self-policed these peace-based events for over 35 years. Your militarization of the Rainbow Gathering Events violates the core principles of our shared Vision of Peace and Love, Trust and Truthfulness and we object to your armed presence in our Church which violates our Human and Religious rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States and the International Law.

If any person at a Rainbow event is injured they must be medically evaluated and, if necessary, stabilized before they can be removed from the Gathering under custody. Immediacy demands that the onsite health care professionals be the first people called upon to do this service. If indeed your people will be using Tasers (against all reason) we insist that any person so attacked be evaluated by C.A.L.M. medical personnel as immediately as possible and absolutely no such person shall be removed from site under custody without such evaluation, unless done by professional licensed Medical Evacuation Systems. We also insist that your personnel cooperate fully with the C.A.L.M. Medical Staff if any stabilization is deemed necessary.

Please consider this letter as legal notice of the dangers of Taser use, the inadequacy of the planning in this regard done by any involved governmental agency, and our intent to hold involved individuals and their supervisors independently liable as well as supervising agencies liable to the full extent of the law should an incident occur.

Sincerely,

Alan H. Feldman, D.D., D.A.Hom.- health-care professional and social worker. (aka Water, Singing-on-the-Rocks)
Susan Bernstein, MEd – Educator and counselor
Steven Botscheller, C.H.A.E., P.M. (retired)

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