PORTSMOUTH — A 78-year-old man was Tased twice after driving into several parked cars, including a police cruiser, while suffering a medical emergency and refusing police commands to stop driving, said police and fire officials.
First responders were called about the incident on Sunday at 11:37 a.m., when they were dispatched to the BJ’s Wholesale Club store on Woodbury Avenue, said Deputy Police Chief Corey MacDonald. Initial reports were that a man crashed his car into a couple of parked cars in the BJ’s parking lot and when officer Andre Wassouf arrived, the man was starting to drive away, MacDonald said.
The driver had his window down, but ignored the officer and his order to stop the car, said the deputy chief.
“He then drove forward and struck another vehicle with no one in it,” MacDonald said. “The officer continued telling the driver to stop his car as the driver continued to back up and pull forward in the store parking lot.”
MacDonald said the man then reversed his car and backed into a police cruiser, breaking a headlight. The driver was told he was under arrest and the officer called for assistance, MacDonald said.
“The officer, believing the car was now in park, attempted to pull the 215-pound driver from the car,” MacDonald said. “However, he was unsuccessful and the vehicle continued to move as it was in neutral. The officer drew his Taser and advised the driver several times that he was under arrest and to get out of the car, but he refused.”
MacDonald said the man then leaned over the passenger’s seat “as if to retrieve something.”
“The officer, fearing the driver was going for a weapon, Tased him,” said the deputy chief. “The driver continued to not comply with orders to submit to the arrest and was Tased a second time. This allowed the officer to finally take control of the situation and get the driver into handcuffs.”
Fire Chief Steve Achilles said firefighters found the man to be “weak” after being Tased and determined he was diabetic and his blood sugar was low. Achilles said it is not uncommon for diabetics in that condition to be combative or angry, making responses by emergency officials “challenging.” He said the condition can mimic alcohol abuse or a behavioral problem and that it’s fortunate police had a non-lethal way to get the situation under control.
MacDonald said the man’s handcuffs were then removed so he could receive medical attention. Achilles said the man was given intravenous treatment to raise his blood sugar and his condition rapidly improved. He was transported by ambulance to Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Achilles said.
According to the deputy police chief, the driver was not charged with a crime after it was determined his conduct stemmed from a medical condition. Damage to all vehicles involved was minor, he said.
“Upon initial review, though the incident is regrettable for all involved, the officer appears to have used reasonable non-lethal force to end a potentially dangerous situation,” said MacDonald. “Our police officers are not paramedics. They are charged with bringing dangerous situations under control. This driver could just as easily have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or engaging in willful criminal conduct.”
MacDonald said it “was not apparent to the officer that the driver was facing a medical emergency” and that the officer’s actions “appear to have ended what could have been a tragic situation if the driver had managed to get onto busy Woodbury Avenue.”
The deputy police chief said every use of force by a Portsmouth officer is forwarded to the “Use of Force Review Committee,” which is charged with determining if an officer’s use of force was warranted, given the facts and circumstances as he or she knew them at the time of the incident. That formal review has yet to occur, he said.