An Oglala Sioux Tribal police officer that was recorded screaming at and tasing an unresponsive and handcuffed man an estimated 28 times, has been cleared of all charges.
A federal grand jury exonerated 33-year-old Becky Sotherland last week after she was charged with “deprivation of constitutional rights, assault with a dangerous weapon, and obstruction of a federal investigation by filing a false report,” in an August 15, 2014 incident that involved a Manderson, South Dakota man that was too intoxicated to stand.
Jeffrey Eagle Bull, who was 32 at the time, had reportedly drank a gallon of vodka and had a blood alcohol level of 0.319. He was lying on the ground as Sotherland tried moving him into her patrol vehicle.
Cellphone video recorded from the scene begins with a woman saying, “This is the thirteenth time tasing him.” Another bystander states, “We’ve been watching him for about a half hour.” Obviously distressed, the woman says, “Oh my god… poor guy.” The other chimes in, “He probably can’t get in because she tased him so much.”
Sotherland, who had responded to the scene on a welfare call, can be heard on the video telling the incapacitated man, “It’s gonna get you again!”
The cracking sound of 50,000 volts of electrical current being discharged into Eagle Bull can then be heard as the officer continues to yell.
“There it is!” Sotherland screams as the electrical shocks continue. “Hurry up! Get in the car before it hits you again! Hurry up! Get up and get in the car or it’s gonna get you again.”
Eagle Bull can be heard writhing in pain as he lie on the ground being electrocuted. Bystanders said that never during the encounter did he make any aggressive moves towards the officer.
Finally in disgust the onlookers yell at the cop, “Let him go, quit tasing him! Just help him up! Just stop tasing him and help him up. One of these boys will help you.”
Sotherland responds, “You guys gonna help him up?” One bystander says, “Yeah,” and a man can be heard saying, “I dunno, I don’t trust her myself,” referring to the cop after seeing what she had just done to Eagle Bull.
A number of onlookers do finally go over to assist the man into the police cruiser.
Watch the raw footage:
In a body-cam video worn by Sotherland, prosecutors counted at least 28 times that Eagle Bull was tased. Following the abuse, he was arrested and jailed on “suspicion of disorderly conduct,” trespassing, and resisting an officer.
After the cell-phone video emerged last year, Ron Duke, chief of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Department of Public Safety, excused Sotherland’s actions by saying she was merely trying to get the man “to wake up and stand up.”
Never the less, she was indicted on August 26, 2014, fired from the department, and was facing up to 10 years in prison. It is not yet clear if she will return to her post following the jury decision.
During the proceedings, Sotherland’s attorneys argued Eagle Bull was “playing possum” in order to avoid being arrested. Prosecutors maintained however, that the man “was so intoxicated he had passed out and [did] not [have the] ability to respond.”
“A taser is to be used to immobilize people who are threats,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Koliner said. “Not a tool to pick someone up and get him into a car.”
Taser experts have echoed that sentiment and have weighed in that shocking someone is exactly the wrong way to get someone who is unconscious or lying down to stand up and respond to orders.
“You can’t resist if you’re unconscious,” said Chuck Drago, of Oviedo, Fla., who has 35 years of experience in law enforcement. “If the person is not resisting, there is absolutely no reason for force.”
Luckily for Eagle Bull, he did not surfer any serious injuries or medical complications as a result of the brutalization. It is unclear, in the wake of the exoneration, if he plans on taking civil action against Sotherland.