By Patrick Walters
A city police officer who used a Taser to subdue a teenager who ran onto the field during a Phillies game has the backing of his chief, but the department is reviewing whether officers should be involved in such on-field confrontations in the future.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey reviewed video of the arrest and felt the officer acted within department guidelines, which allow officers to use Tasers to arrest fleeing suspects, said police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore. The department’s internal affairs unit is investigating, Vanore said.
The teen leapt onto the field at the top of the eighth inning during last Monday night’s game against St. Louis. He ran around in circles in the outfield, waving a white towel, and dodged two security officers.
The police officer chased him for about 30 seconds before the stun gun probe hit the teenager, who stumbled forward, slid face-first on the grass and stayed down for about 30 seconds before standing up and walking off the field.
“From the preliminary look at it, it appears that the officer was within the policy,” said Vanore, adding that he did not know what may have transpired before the video started. “He was attempting to make an arrest and the male was attempting to flee.”
Police said the teen is charged with defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. His name was not being released because of his age.
The department is reviewing whether its officers should be on the field wrangling fans who aren’t threatening anyone, Vanore said.
“Should we be on the field at all? I think that’s what’s being looked at,” Vanore said. “I’m not sure we should be chasing people around the field.”
The team said the police department was discussing with the Phillies whether using the stun gun was appropriate.
Vanore said it was the first time he knew of that a Philadelphia officer had used a Taser on a fan on the field. There have been instances in other cities of police using stun guns on unruly fans in the stands, including last year at an A’s game in Oakland, Calif.
Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said security issues are dealt with at the team level. He said he knew the Phillies were talking with police about the encounter and that MLB was monitoring the situation, but he declined further comment.
An expert on police accountability said he couldn’t comment specifically on the Philadelphia case, but said the general rule is that officers should only use Tasers on people who are posing a threat of “imminent harm.”
Merrick Bobb, executive director of a Los Angeles-based nonprofit police oversight group called the Police Assessment Resource Center, said mild resistance usually doesn’t justify the use of a Taser.
“Usually the resistance has to threaten some harm to the officer in order to justify the use of a Taser,” Bobb said.
Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia, said she didn’t understand why the officer had to use a Taser.
“How long can he really run around out there?” Roper said of the fan. “In this situation, he’s not dangerous, he’s not getting away.”