Pregnant Woman's Tasering Probed

FBI, Ohio cops investigate Nov. 18 incident after complaint filed.

February 19, 2009, 4:17 AM

Nov. 29, 2007 — -- The FBI and an Ohio police department are investigating an incident in which a pregnant woman was stunned with a Taser inside the lobby of a police station after refusing to answer an officer's question and ultimately resisting arrest.

The two investigations began after Richard Jones, president of the Ohio chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, called in a complaint to the Trotwood Police Department, Trotwood public safety director Michael Etter told ABC News.

Surveillance video of the incident, which took place on the morning of Nov. 18, shows a woman identified in a police incident report as Valreca Redden, 33, in the lobby of the suburban Dayton police station with her 1-year-old son.

Redden, according to Etter, had come to the police station to ask police to take custody of her child. When officer Michael Wilmer asked why, the woman reportedly would only say that "she's tired of playing games" with the baby's father.

"At this point, they had a little more discussion that went nowhere," Etter said, recounting the incident. "She says, 'I'm leaving.'"

Etter, who repeatedly emphasized to ABC News that Wilmer had no idea the Valreca was pregnant, said that the officer then explained that she could not leave without further explanation. He took hold of the child with one arm, Etter said, and pushed the woman down with the other.

When a second officer arrived, Wilmer handed over the 1-year-old and attempted to handcuff Valreca. She began to resist, Etter said, at which point he "employed what is called a 'drive stun'" on the back of her neck.

"If he were to take the baby and have her leave, we don't know who the baby is," Etter said. "There's certain information that he's responsible for. I think the officer made the right decision in detaining her." Wilmer remains on duty.

The Taser model used by the Trotwood police force, according to Etter, can either be fired like a gun or pressed against a target to deploy.

Valreca was charged with obstructing official business and resisting arrest. It was not until the woman, wearing a heavy coat, was being checked out by jail staff that officers learned she was pregnant, Etter said. At that point, she was transported directly to the hospital.

Jones, from Sharpton's National Action Network, called to complain about the incident, claiming that police violated Ohio's "safe haven" law and that the woman should have been able to simply drop the 1-year-old without questions from police. Etter explained that the state statute applies only to children 72 hours old or younger.

Jones, who did not immediately return a phone call from ABC News, also informed Etter that he would be contacting the FBI, Etter said. Etter did the same, and the FBI has said it will investigate the incident.

For its part, he said, the department wants to see if its Taser policy is proper. "We're investigating a lot of different things," Etter said. "But No. 1 is force."

According to a copy of Trotwood Police Department General Orders, police officers are encouraged to "greatly evaluate each situation with discretion" before using a Taser on a child, elderly person or pregnant woman.

Tianesha Robinson, 33, was pregnant in 2006 when she was jolted by a stun gun in Kansas after she allegedly resisted arrest during a traffic stop. Robinson ultimately had a miscarriage, according to The Associated Press, but doctors could not conclusively link the Taser to the woman losing the baby.

Another woman, Cindy Grippi, delivered a stillborn girl in December 2001 after California police hit her with a Taser. A medical examiner never determined the cause of the child's death, which could have been traced to the woman's methamphetamine usage. Still, the city of Chula Vista settled a lawsuit with the woman for $675,000, according to the AP.

Authorities in Utah are probing a recent Taser incident in which motorist Jared Massey was struck by the device after allegedly disobeying an officer's requests. Massey, who filed a complaint with Utah authorities about the trooper's use of force, posted the dashboard camera video of the confrontation on YouTube last week. The incident sparked a new round debate.

Canadian officials continue to investigate the case of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after he was hit by a Taser at the Vancouver International Airport in October. The four police officers involved in that incident, which also was caught on surveillance tape, have since been reassigned to different posts. Eighteen people have died in Canada after being hit with a Taser in the last four years, according to the Canadian federal police.

The human rights organization Amnesty International, which urges more restraint by law enforcement when choosing to discharge the devices, cited 250 cases in the United States in the last six years in which a suspect died after being hit with a Taser. Those statistics, however, do not track whether the shock actually caused the deaths.

Taser International Inc., the company that manufactures Tasers, claims that the device can only be tied to 12 deaths but does recognize that pregnant women are at more risk of danger if hit by one of the devices.

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