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Group criticizes repeat use of stun gun in jail

Published: Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 11:42 a.m. CST

MUSCATINE (AP) — Experts disagree about whether a Muscatine County jail inmate with a mental illness should have been shocked with a stun gun four times as officers tried to get her to change clothing.

Muscatine County officials concluded that no laws were broken and jail policies were followed in the incident last month. But the Des Moines Register reported the mental health advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa is investigating.

Video of the incident shows the woman, Marie Franks, cursing at jail staff and swinging her arms apparently to keep jail staff away. She was shocked four times in eight minutes during the Oct. 7 incident.

Franks suffers from bipolar disorder but she was off her medication while in jail for repeatedly calling 911 but refusing to talk to dispatchers.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren said jail officials determined Franks needed to change clothing because she might have been wearing something she could have used to hurt herself or others. Authorities charged Franks with assaulting an officer three days earlier on Oct. 4.

“It’s unfortunate she was tased, but it would also have been unfortunate if she had killed herself with something she had in her possession,” Ostergren said. “We’re not in the business of applying pain to people just to do it. We’re in the business of trying to safeguard the inmates from themselves.”

Franks said her doctors changed her medications just before she was arrested initially, and she believes the confrontation with jail officers could have been avoided if she had been taking her medication in jail.

“I’d sure as heck would hate to see somebody else go through it,” Franks, 58, said. “I really have a strong pain tolerance. A lot of people couldn’t take it.”

Ostergren said Franks refused to take medication jail officials offered her.

Don Gilbert, a board member of the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association, said he understands why a stun gun might have been used after watching the video, but he thinks jail officials could have avoided the incident.

Gilbert said a submissive hold where jail officials place their arms around an individual likely would have been more effective. Also, he said some of the yelling commands likely made the situation worse.

“Tasering somebody who is bipolar or schizophrenic once, much less four times in a short period of time, is unnecessary. Wow,” Gilbert said.

But police management consultant William Moulder said he believes the officers’ actions were reasonable in the situation.

Moulder, who was Des Moines police chief from 1984 to 2003, said Franks quieted down after the first shocks and jailers were able to move her to another area to start changing her clothes.

Moulder said the additional shocks were appropriate because of Franks’ continued resistance.

“This video is hard to watch. You don’t like to see that kind of involvement,” Moulder said. “But in this case, it appears she wasn’t injured.”

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