Teen tased: Did state trooper violate policy?
The mother of a teenager who was tased by an FHP trooper last week has hired an attorney to help fight the arrest she says happened because of racial profiling.
Sixteen-year-old Jack Rodeman was arrested by Trooper George Smyrnios on June 16 and is currently being held at the Juvenile Assessment Center for 21 days.
Jack was walking to his girlfriend’s home on Indian Laurel Way when he was followed by Smyrnios who, according to the arrest report, described Jack as a suspicious person.
Smyrnios followed Jack into his girlfriend’s backyard where he used a Taser on the teen as the teen texted his girlfriend to come outside.
The incident was caught on a surveillance camera. The whole encounter is now under an administrative review by the Florida Highway Patrol but a law enforcement expert who trains police across the state said after reviewing the video there was no reason for Smyrnios to fire his Taser.
*Warning: This video contains strong language.
And according to FHP policy, troopers are to consider the severity of the crime and whether the subject poses an immediate threat.
Troopers are not allowed to deploy a Taser if the sole reason they are doing so is that someone is fleeing from them, the policy shows. By the time Smyrnios stunned Jack, he was just standing on his girlfriend’s back porch trying to get her to come outside.
FHP policy states: “The use of a CEW (conducted electrical weapon) is authorized and may be an appropriate response in the case of a sudden attack, or when ‘active resistance’ or greater is offered by a subject who is about to be taken into custody for any reason.”
Surveillance footage shows Jack was exhibiting passive resistance, which includes examples like “the subject refuses to move at the member’s direction” or “the subject refuses to take his hands out of his pockets or from behind his back,” according to the policy.
“The most egregious part to me is here’s a kid who was offering no active resistance but passive resistance by being on his phone and texting and because he failed to comply with your lawful order, you shot him with a Taser and he fell and hit his head on a brick,” said David J. Thomas, a professor of forensic studies at FGCU who is also a former police officer.
Smyrnios claims the teen wasn’t complying with his verbal commands.
But the policy doesn’t list verbal noncompliance as a reason to use a Taser.
It spells out, citing Florida Law: It “must involve a custodial situation when the subject is actively physically resisting.”
“If he goes and says let’s put handcuffs on, then the kid starts to fight and resist, then you have a legitimate reason to use a Taser but you don’t have a legitimate reason to use a Taser because the kids ignoring him and on his phone,” Thomas said.
FHP is not commenting until the investigation is over other than to say the arrest reports speak for themselves.
In two arrest reports for the same incident, Smyrnios lays out his reasoning for arresting Jack, including claiming Jack’s behavior was suspicious when he darted into bushes, in the Timber Lakes community.
Smyrnios wrote he “has personal knowledge that this neighborhood has had several burglaries.”
But the Lee County Sheriff’s Office crime map doesn’t show any crimes in that specific neighborhood in the past year.
Attorney Chris Brown, who is not involved in the case, said a trooper can detain someone if there is a reasonable suspicion the person is doing something wrong.
“For darting in the bushes alone I would not think would hold up to detain them,” Brown said.
The trooper doesn’t detain the teen and doesn’t appear to try to before deploying his Taser.
That’s the first thing that stands out to Thomas.
“I mean he can detain him which means you going to put handcuffs on, OK and that’s what you do,” Thomas said. “You don’t tase somebody.”
Both arrest reports leave out some facts. Troopers are required to document all witnesses and subjects in an arrest report after they use their Taser.
The arrest report has a glaring omission and that’s that there is no mention of Jack’s girlfriend who appears while Smyrnios is handcuffing Jack as he lies on the ground.
There are also differences between the first narrative written by Smyrnios and the second amended arrest report.
In the first report, there is no mention of a weapon, but in the amended report, Smyrnios writes he “could not see (Jack’s) hands” and “I was concerned that he might have a weapon.”
He doesn’t document what you can hear on the video: Jack telling him he’s trying to get the girl who lives there to come outside.
‘I hate it’
Jack’s mother Kristina Rodeman laid her eyes on the Juvenile Assessment Center for the first time with Attorney Derek Tyler by her side.
Rodeman hired Tyler to fight the arrest against Jack.
Tyler said Jack is in pain due to the fall from the shock of the trooper’s weapon. Video footage shows Jack colliding with a brick fountain on his way down. The impact dislodges one of the bricks which also falls to the ground.
“He is going to have to be X-rayed and looked at for any vertebral fractures without a doubt,” Tyler said.
Rodeman said she has no clue if doctors have treated Jack for the pain caused by the fall.
“I hate it,” Rodeman said. “I just want him to come home.”
Tyler said the video was tantamount to torture of a child.
“In this country, in this state, our criminal justice system should not … at all condone torture, especially of a child,” Tyler said.
Rodeman said her son walks to his girlfriend’s house all of the time, always taking the same route.
While the arrest report by Trooper Smyrnios stated Jack darted into bushes. “The descriptor of ‘dart’ is purely subjective,” Tyler said. “It was totally uncalled for and unjustified by any way you slice it because the officer was not in any physical danger whatsoever.”
Smyrnios arrested Jack even after his girlfriend came outside to say Jack had permission to be in her backyard. The charges listed in the arrest report include loitering, possession of medical marijuana, and a criminal traffic violation.
“We are going to vigorously defend all of the charges and we are also going to vigorously pursue every legal avenue available regarding the unmitigated, unjustified torture that he was subjected to by the officer involved,” Tyler said.
Rodeman called the incident one of injustice.
“It didn’t need to happen,” she said.