See video of the incident at Myrecordjournal.com.
MERIDEN — A city man who was tased by police during a May traffic stop that was caught on video claims he and his passenger were unfairly treated by city police.
Jamie Hess, 33, of Franklin Street appeared in court Wednesday to face charges of interfering with an officer and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He was arrested again in July and charged with interfering with a police officer and possession of narcotics, as well as operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.
Hess, who was on probation for another charge, was traveling with Jevon Parrish on May 9 to visit Parrish’s newborn son at MidState Medical Center. Officer Raynick Vasquez was parked in a nearby commuter lot and was on the lookout for a vehicle driven by someone involved in a domestic incident earlier in the evening, according to an incident report obtained by the Record-Journal.
The vehicle was similar and Hess was driving slowly and veering from left to right before taking a wide turn into MidState, according to the incident report written by Vasquez.
Vasquez wrote that Hess was moving slowly to retrieve his license, and he had “red, glossy eyes, and a pinpoint pupil which was consistent with my observations that he may be under the influence of narcotics, because I did not smell any signs of an alcoholic beverage.”
Vasquez asked Parrish for his identification and he replied he was going to get out and see his newborn baby. Hess turned on his cell phone recorder and recorded the incident. Officer Witkin arrived and asked Parrish for his identification. “Parrish could be heard on the recording saying ‘that’s not going to happen.’ ”
Police said Parrish made a sudden movement with his left hand into his right side of his body as to retrieve something. Witkin can be heard yelling to Parrish to come out slow with whatever he was holding or he’s going to tase him. Parrish produced a five-hour-energy drink. Witkin ordered him out of the Ford Explorer, but Parrish refused. After some wrangling with the door, Witkin pulled at Parrish’s arm and leg while Parrish pushed back farther into the seat. After several orders, Witkin used his taser and drive-stunned Parrish in the abdomen. Other officers arrived and it took three officers to remove Parrish from the vehicle and get him on the ground, according to Witkin’s report.
As Parrish was being cuffed, officers ordered Hess out of the car and reported difficulty getting him into handcuffs because he was resisting so strongly. Witkin, thinking Hess might have a gun, tased him again in the lower back for one cycle, after which officers were able to handcuff him, he wrote.
Police said Hess’ behavior was consistent with someone under the influence of drugs. “For his size and build, Jamie possessed great strength and stamina which prevented officers from securing him quickly,” Witkin wrote.
While putting him in handcuffs, Officer Erik Simonson gave Hess several commands to stop resisting and used short strikes to Hess’ face and back with a closed fist, he states in his report. When those didn’t work, he delivered two knee strikes to Hess’ left shoulder and one errantly struck the side of his head, at which point he was able to get Hess’ left hand behind his back and into the handuffs, Simonson wrote in his report.
Hess denied being under the influence of narcotics and denied that he refused a urine test for drugs, according to records from Hess’ administrative hearing with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Hess went to MidState Medical Center several days later. According to his medical records, he suffered a facial fracture or what’s called a ‘blowout fracture.’ This occurs when the eye is struck and the force against the eye causes the floor of the eye socket (orbit) to break. He also had bruising in the abdomen.
Hess has a lengthy criminal background including weapons possession charges, and a felony reckless evading responsibility that caused serious injury and eventual death in a car accident when he was younger. He served six years in prison and had nine months left of his probation. That probation was revoked on Oct. 15 and he is now in Hartford Correctional Center. Parrish has convictions on drugs and weapons charges.
The video recording from Hess’ cellphone recently aired on WTNH, which asked whether the department had violated its own use of taser policy during the altercation.
The policy states that Meriden police are not to use electronic control weapons such as Tasers on someone who is passively resisting. Hess’ video of Parrish shows him refusing officers commands but not actively resisting.
Police spokesman Lt. Salvatore Nesci said when Parrish leaned away from Witkin as he was being pulled out, he crossed the line from passively to actively resisting and use of a taser was consistent with department policy.
“But people are going to take it different ways,” Nesci said.
Nesci said Hess came in to pick up his mug shot and Nesci asked him if he wanted to file a formal complaint against the department. Nesci said Hess refused.
Hess’s wife Nadine Hess said her husband wants to wait until the criminal charges are cleared before pursuing a complaint or any civil remedies.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has been paying close attention to taser policies throughout the state, particularly since there have been 13 taser-related deaths since police departments began using them. Three of the deaths occurred in Meriden, and one death followed Witkin’s use of a taser on a man several months ago.
“It’s become clear that training and reporting is essential in Connecticut,” said ACLU lawyer David McGuire. “It’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously. I understand that tasers can sometimes save lives, but we’ve gotten where people have been inappropriately tased.”
McGuire wouldn’t comment on whether the ACLU would be looking into Hess and Parrish’s claims, but said the need for legislative reform is apparent, something the ACLU will revisit during the next legislative session.
McGuire said he was heartened to learn at a recent dinner function that Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, and Deputy Timothy Topolus support legislation calling for documentation of taser use, and more officer training.
“I am pleased they agree there is a need for statewide reform,” McGuire said.
Nesci said the department has been at the fore on taser use policies and training and had a policy in place before it was mandatory. Any use of a taser is documented and the department is investing in new training that would assist in placing resisting prisoners under arrest without the use of tasers, he said.
“We are trying to use a structured program,” Nesci said. “We’ve gone above and beyond.”
Hess is due to appear in court again on Dec. 17.
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