Taser usage included in investigation by state police

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield Police Department’s use of Tasers and whether two officers followed department protocols is part of an Indiana State Police probe into the death of an Indianapolis man.

Officials say Greenfield Sgt. Rodney Vawter and Patrolman Dillon Silver, who remain on paid leave, used a Taser on 48-year-old Douglas Wiggington during an altercation with the man Friday evening. Wiggington — who appeared to be intoxicated when officers arrived, reports state — suffered a medical ailment and died following the encounter.

Shooting a Taser is one of several defensive tactics Greenfield officers are taught as part of their use-of-force training to subdue unruly suspects. Officers are taught various levels of force to regain control, including use of verbal commands, hands-on take-down techniques and weapons, according to department records.

Witnesses who spotted the encounter between the officers and Wigginton say the man was kicking and refusing to be handcuffed.

Greenfield teaches its officers to use “the minimum force necessary to protect human life and property,” when taking control of a suspect, department policies state.

Officers may use their Taser “for protection from assault or (to) take a person into custody,” and are instructed to use a Taser before going “hands on” with a suspect, department policies state. There are no guidelines prohibiting the use of a Taser on a person who is suspected to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, officials said.

Officers administered Narcan — medication used to reverse an overdose — after Wiggington collapsed; he was pronounced dead at Hancock Regional Hospital.

The Hancock County coroner said it’s too early to determine Wiggington’s cause of death; an autopsy was performed Sunday, and toxicology screens are pending.

No details have been released about which officer shot his Taser or how many times Wiggington was hit.

The department’s use-of-force policy was last updated in April 2015; it is updated every two years, officials said.

Though they are generally considered a nonlethal weapon, Tasers carry a risk. A 2012 study by the American Heart Association found the shock from a 50,000-volt stun gun can lead to cardiac arrest or death. Suspects also have suffered fatal injuries from falling after being shot with one.

There is no statewide standard for the use of nonlethal or less-lethal weapons, including Tasers, said Michael Lindsay, the deputy director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

Too many departments carry different devices for the academy to develop a coherent training course, Lindsay said. Instead, officers receive Taser training from their individual department.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.