Editor’s note: The original version of this story has been updated to include a response from the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. When the story was first published, the GCSO had not yet responded to questions about why the documents were redacted.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny for what some in the public see as a lack of transparency related to how they handled a recent Taser-related death — a characterization that was highlighted this week with the organization’s response to a public records request made by the Daily Citizen.
The Daily Citizen filed a Sunshine Request last month, asking for the GCSO’s policies regarding use of Tasers and use of force, in general.
The office responded to that request by providing the Daily Citizen with pages of heavily redacted policies, including an almost completely redacted Taser-use policy.
The Sunshine Request was made with regards to some recent reporting that revealed a Highlandville man had been tased by a deputy with the GCSO in late January. That man fell on a paved parking lot, hit his head and quickly became unresponsive and was later pronounced braindead.
That man — 27-year-old Sean Winslow — died a few days later at CoxSouth. GCSO never released any information about the incident or Winslow’s death to the public.
In a story published last week, the Daily Citizen compared GCSO’s handling of Winslow’s death with how the Springfield Police Department handled a similar incident that happened a few days before Winslow was tased about five miles away.
Tymel Bowman was tased by officers with Springfield Police Department on Jan. 22. He died shortly after.
The police department released information to the public and media about the incident and Bowman’s death the following day.
Winslow was tased by a deputy with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 28. He fell, hit his head and died a few days later.
The sheriff’s office never released any information about the incident or Winslow’s death.
It wasn’t until the Daily Citizen spoke with Winslow’s relatives and wrote about the incident that the public was informed of Winslow’s in-custody death.
When asked for its policies related to officers’ use of force and use of Tasers, the spokesperson for the Springfield Police Department immediately responded by sending links and PDFs to the requested policies. These policies are also available to the public on the City of Springfield’s website.
Taser policies side by side
But when the Daily Citizen asked the Greene County Sheriff’s Office for the department’s policies on use of force and the use of Tasers, the GCSO’s spokesperson told the reporter to file a formal Sunshine Request. That request was filed on May 25.
GCSO notified the Daily Citizen the requested documents were ready on Friday, and the reporter picked them up on Monday morning only to find they had been heavily redacted.
The following GCSO policies were redacted completely: factors used to determine the reasonableness of force, baton guidelines, tear gas guidelines, oleoresin capsicum guidelines and kinetic energy projectile guidelines.
In GCSO’s Policy 303, which is dedicated solely to the use of Tasers, the sections titled “verbal and visual warnings” and “probe removal and medical treatment” are both entirely redacted. And the section titled “use of the taser device” is completely redacted except for a very general statement about the device’s “limitations and restrictions requiring consideration before its use.”
Compare that to Springfield Police Department’s policy specifically for Taser use, which are not redacted at all.
Springfield Police Department’s use of force policies also have a few redacted paragraphs. For example, of the 21-page “Standard Operating Guideline for Training, Proficiency, and Use of Weapons,” about two pages worth of paragraphs are redacted — not two full pages, but different graphs here and there that if combined would be equal to about two pages.
SPD spokesperson Cris Swaters explained that these portions were probably redacted because of “officer safety and operational security type things.”
“We don’t want the bad guys to know everything,” Swaters said.
The Daily Citizen asked GCSO’s media spokesperson on Tuesday morning if she or someone with the Sheriff’s Office could explain why the documents were so heavily redacted. After the story was published on Wednesday, GCSO paralegal Valerie Petersen sent the following response:
“§610.100.3, RSMo. authorizes closure of documents, such as the referenced policies, containing information reasonably likely to pose a clear and present danger to the safety of any victim, witness, undercover officer, or other person, or to jeopardize criminal investigations; or which would disclose techniques, procedures or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
“Our position is that disclosure of the redacted information is reasonably likely to jeopardize safety by encouraging subjects who are in regular contact with law enforcement to test the limits of policy restrictions (which policy restrictions may be greater than legal restrictions) on apprehension and control over subjects, and that the ability of law enforcement to apprehend and control subjects, whether through compliance or use of force, is crucial as to most criminal investigations. Please know that closure is not intended to suggest that you specifically would misuse the redacted information, but our understanding is that the focus must be on disclosure to the public at large.”
Taser-related death stories
Sean Winslow, a 27-year-old man, was tased by Greene County Sheriff’s deputies, became braindead and later died from related injuries. News of his in-custody death has not been reported.
This story is part of an in-depth report by Jackie Rehwald on a taser-related death in Springfield that went unreported to the public. So far this year, two men have died after being tased by law enforcement in Springfield. Tymel Bowman died shortly after being…