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Rights Commission to review police policy on non-lethal force

GREENFIELD — The town’s Human Rights Commission will spend the next couple of months talking with police and reviewing the department’s use of “less-than-lethal force” policies in response to a request by one of its commissioners who feels police used a taser on him unnecessarily.

After an almost two-hour presentation this week by Hassan Elzeneiney, a member of the commission, about local police policies, as well as his personal experience of being Tasered on Dec. 29, 2011, the full commission decided it will invite the town’s Police Department to attend a future meeting to discuss its policies.

“We need to hear from both sides,” said commission Chairman Lewis Metaxas. “We may find that we would like to make suggestions after our review.”

Metaxas and other members of the commission said they would like to concentrate on the policies, rather than Elzeneiney’s narrative.

Elzeneiney said he believes an outside consultant should be hired to review the part of the department’s policy manual that covers less-than-lethal force, including the use of Tasers, and the results should be presented to the public for its input.

Elzeneiney said he had a “severe panic attack” in front of his lawyer’s office on Main Street two years ago and called “911” for help.

He said police arrived and within minutes he found himself being Tasered, handcuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser.

Elzeneiney said he refused an order to present his wrists, something police will ask if they believe someone could hurt himself or others. He said he was the one who called for help and felt he shouldn’t be treated like a criminal, so he refused police orders.

Elzeneiney said he pushed an officer’s hand and “it apparently became grounds” for police to declare him a Section 12, which is a violent or mentally unstable person who must be transported to the emergency room.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh, who was not on the Greenfield police force in 2011, said that he read the reports, which are considered “no crime reported incident” reports, about that day in December 2011.

He said Elzeneiney made the 911 call. He said no crime was involved, but said it appears police were justified in their actions that day.

“I wasn’t there, so I can’t say from personal experience what happened that day,” said Haigh. “I have, though, read the reports that officers filled out and supervisors reviewed.”

What Haigh said he can say is that Tasers are used by Greenfield police to bring someone who is “noncompliant or combative” into compliance in a controlled way.

Haigh said “nothing jumps out” at him in terms of problems with the police department’s policies concerning the use of Tasers and other non-lethal weapons. He said he believes it is a good, comprehensive policy.

After the incident the town’s Public Safety Commission also reviewed the policies and found them appropriate.

He said there were three officers involved in Elzeneiney’s restraint and there was a parking officer standing close by who witnessed the incident from beginning to end.

Haigh said that many Greenfield police are trained to use a Taser and those who aren’t cannot carry one. According to policy, officers must receive at least four hours of training from a certified trainer and must receive updated training each year.

He said police are allowed to use a Taser if someone makes physical contact with an officer or is doing something that threatens the safety of an officer, the public or himself.

“Officer perception obviously plays a role,” said Haigh. “Tasing is not the primary reaction, though. First there are verbal commands and then other compliance techniques.”

He said those techniques include restraining and handcuffing, for instance.

“If those don’t work, the officer has to determine what might,” said Haigh.

He said, for instance, an officer probably wouldn’t use pepper spray outside on a windy day.

“An officer also has to pay attention to where a subject’s hands are at all times, hence the handcuffing,” he said. “Officers have to be able to protect themselves and others.”

“If an incident escalates, you don’t know how far it will go, and that’s when a Taser or some other technique may be needed,” he said.

Haigh said he or one of his officers will be happy to speak with the commission about less-than-lethal policies when the time comes.

Metaxas said the commission will announce the date and time of such a meeting at a later date.

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