UI Student 'Tased' at Hawkeye Game; Questions Asked About Police Policies
By Erin Jordan, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa An Army veteran stunned with a Taser at the Sept. 11 Iowa vs. Iowa State football game was the first person "tased" at a University of Iowa sporting event, the UI reported.
The North Liberty police officer who stunned the student was among dozens of officers the UI hired from other jurisdictions to beef up security at the game attended by 70,500 fans. Those non-campus officers follow their own department's policies rather than UI policies a decision questioned by an Iowa lawmaker.
"Because it all occurs at a university facility, it should be the U of I's policy," said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville. "If they are off-duty officers, they are working under the auspices of the U of I police."
The UI also should train moonlighting cops how to deal with situations that are unique to campus sporting events, Dvorsky said. "You don't have that big of crowds," he added, referring to other jurisdictions.
Christopher T. Knotts, a 25-year-old UI senior from Solon, was charged with assault on a peace officer, interference with official acts, public intoxication and trespass based on allegations he shoved a police officer and refused to leave Kinnick Stadium after disrupting other fans at the Sept. 11 game.
North Liberty Police Officer Mitch Seymour stunned Knotts with his Taser, using a "drive stun" method that does not use projectile darts and is considered less painful.
David Visin, associate UI public safety director, said the incident is the first Taser deployment at a UI sporting event since campus officers started carrying Tasers in 2003. "An officer has to make a judgment call. We're not doing an investigation on it," Visin said.
Knotts was watching the game with friends in the student section when a police officer approached at the end of the first quarter and asked them to leave, he said. "I asked him why we were being kicked out. 'What did we do?' He said the people behind us complained. We went back and forth for a few minutes," Knotts said.
Seymour came up behind Knotts and touched his back with the Taser. Knotts fell forward onto the bleachers, where he tried to comply with an order to put his hands behind his back, he said. Seymour stunned Knotts a second time in the back, Knotts said. "I had some bruising on those muscles, but you couldn't see it because I have a full back piece," Knotts said, referring to large military-themed tattoos on his back.
Knotts served in the U.S. Army for several years and was deployed to Iraq for six months in 2004 before he had medical problems, he said.
Officers marched Knotts past the crowd, into the concourse and to a small holding cell, he said. They pulled up his arms in the back, which was painful because of a shoulder injury Knotts suffered in a motorcycle accident, he said. The officers also required Knotts to jog, which put pressure on his bad knee, Knotts said.
"It was totally excessive," Knotts said. "There was no need for a Tasing incident, especially when they got me on the concourse, yanking on my shoulder. I wasn't struggling at all. I was complying. They basically totally overused their force completely."
Criminal complaints state Knotts was causing problems with the fans in his section. Police told him several times to leave Kinnick or be arrested. When Knotts refused to leave, an officer grabbed his arm, police reported. Knotts shoved the officer in the chest with both hands, knocking him backward, the complaint states. Police reported that Knotts refused to put his hands behind his back and Seymour had to stun him to "gain compliance." Knotts "smelled heavily of alcohol and had slurred speech," police reported, but refused to take a blood-alcohol test.
Knotts pleaded guilty in 2008 to drunken driving and driving with a revoked license.
Krista Riley, 22, a UI senior from Spirit Lake, witnessed the incident and said Knotts did not deserve to be stunned. "I didn't see any aggression or see him touch the officer at all," said Riley, adding that she thought officers might have mistaken her group, which included Knotts, for other rowdy fans.
Mutual aid vs. moonlighting
The UI hires 60 to 80 officers from 13 area departments to work with 40 UI officers on game days, Visin said. The hourly pay rate for this moonlighting is $55 an hour, paid from the UI Athletic Department budget.
The UI doesn't require non-campus officers to follow UI policies while working UI events because they are paid through their home departments, UI Public Safety director Chuck Green said. The UI signs mutual aid agreements with police departments, who notify officers about opportunities to pick up shifts at the university. The university pays the agencynot the officerfor the hours worked during sporting events, Green said. "We're never sure exactly what officer is coming down," Green said. "You would be forced to try to train each individual officer to your policies in one day."
He compared the situation to UI police working a RAGBRAI event in Coralville. Coralville pays the UI, which pays the officers. In this situation, UI officers would follow university policies, not those of the community holding the event, Green said.
The Sept. 11 Taser incident will be included with the UI's use-of-force statistics, because it occurred at a UI venue, Visin said.
The UI and North Liberty police departments each have rules on how and when officers should use guns, as well as "less-than-lethal" weapons, such as Tasers or pepper spray. Officers must decide whether they need force to make an arrest and protect themselves or others, police said.
The UI's three-page policy on Taser use is more specific than North Liberty's policy, particularly when it comes to documenting the incident.
Tasers were the highest level of force available to officers at Iowa's three public universities from 2003 to 2007, when the Iowa Board of Regents voted to allow officers to carry guns.
The UI requires any officer who unholsters and points his or her Taser at a suspect to document the deployment and complete an incident report. If the Taser darts are deployed, the officer must notify a supervisor and document the "crime scene" in writing and photographs, according to the policy.
The darts, once removed from the defendant, are to be placed back into the cartridge, sealed with evidence tape and logged into evidence, the policy states. UI police also must document any injuries to the person stunned.
The one-page North Liberty police Taser policy has no requirements about documenting the stun-gun's deployment or injuries to the person stunned. If probes are deployed, North Liberty officers are required to take the person to UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Officers who arrested Knotts on Sept. 11 photographed his back, completed an incident report and took Knotts to UI Hospitals for an electrocardiogram, a graphical heart scan that determines whether the stun affected the person's heart.
"We're being overprotective, but we want to be," Visin said. Visin said the UI police did not conduct additional procedures, because the Taser's darts were not used and it was a North Liberty Taser used in the incident.
Seymour did not return phone messages and an e-mail seeking comment on the incident. North Liberty Police Chief Jim Warkentin said he hadn't seen the UI incident report and could not comment extensively about the case.
Warkentin has never worked a UI event, but said he supports the decision to have moonlighting officers follow their home jurisdiction policies rather than those of the UI. "They are going to follow our guidelines because that's what they know," Warkentin said.
UI police hold a pre-game briefing for non-campus officers working at Kinnick, Visin said. "We let them know what they can expect and what we do here," Visin said. "We spend more time than a regular briefing, because we have people coming in from other law enforcement agencies."
This briefing is not enough, said legislator Dvorsky, who is also executive officer of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services. "I would hope they have some sort of training program before the season starts to explain all their policies," Dvorsky said. "They are a unique jurisdiction there."
Green said he does not believe they would get many takers if moonlighting officers were required to go through extensive training on UI policies. He said he does not expect to change department policies following the Sept. 11 incident.