Shelby County Sheriff calls use of stun shields a ‘regrettable mistake’

Fox 13

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — The Shelby County Sheriff calls the arming of the jail response team with electric pulse shields inside 201 poplars a “regrettable mistake.”

This happened after the Sheriff’s Office said protesters got into the jail annex then created a security threat for civilian employees.

The Sheriff’s Office said it plans on making a policy change even though the team never used the shields against the protesters.

In a statement, SCSO said from now on, the shields will not be shown or allowed outside of the jail in places like the annex.

Protesters said it’s the right move because there have only been peaceful protests in Memphis.

“They are scary looking and once again I think that’s the point, to chill our 1st Amendment-protected rights,” said activist Hunter Demster.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, protesters entered the jail annex, creating a disturbance and a security threat for the civilian employees.

The Jail Detention Response Team arrived with electric pulse shields to help with security.

The Sheriff’s office released a statement that said Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said this is a regrettable mistake. He goes on to say he will change policy to prohibit the shields from being displayed or used outside the jail again.

The statement emphasizes that the jail response team is the only group allowed to use the shields.

“How often are these shields being used, how often have you had them? There a lot of questions around them that the public deserves to have answers to,” said Demster.

In the statement, the Sheriff’s Office said it bought the shields in July of 2020.

The statement continues saying that the shock is lower than a Christmas tree light and less than a taser.

“Law enforcement has to maintain peace and if they are trained properly and held accountable on how to use it I think it will be okay,” said Retired Shelby County Captain Bennie Cobb.

Cobb said these shields are nothing new but he understands why the average person would find them intimidating.

“When the public sees peaceful protesters are met with such a reaction, that has a chilling effect on people’s rights,” said Demster.

The Sheriff’s Office did not say how often it uses the shields. FOX13 tried to ask the sheriff more about previous uses but has not heard back.

Money from the jail operating budget was used to buy each shield for about almost $900.

SCSO’s complete statement reads as follows:

At around 1:00 p.m. Thursday, September 24, 2020, a group of approximately 30-40 protestors temporarily blocked Poplar Avenue in front of the Shelby County Jail. Not long ago, a group of protesters had entered the Jail Annex, creating a disturbance and a security threat for the civilian employees in that immediate area.

On Thursday, the protestors left Poplar Avenue and attempted to enter the Annex. Members of the Jail’s Detention Response Team were deployed to assist with security and they held the doors shut. They were outfitted in protective gear and displayed their two (2) non-lethal electric pulse shields (“e-shield”). That team is the only group in the Sheriff’s Office permitted to have such shields and the usage is highly regulated.

Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. says this is a regrettable mistake and directed policy modifications that will prohibit those shields from being displayed or used outside of the Jail again.

The Sheriff’s Office recently upgraded to this newest less-lethal technology in July 2020, but has had other less-lethal shock shields since 1990s following a riot in the Jail.

The new shield is capable of delivering a pulsating shock of 210-320 volts for a fraction of a second. This shock appears to be lower than a 4.8 watt Christmas tree light and far less than tasers which can be 50,000 volts at discharge. The temporary electrical shock delivered by eshield is non-injurious and does not enter the body.

Funds from the SCSO jail operating budget were used to purchase the shields from Compliant Technologies at a cost of $895.00 for each shield. The agency currently has two of these style shields.

No force of any kind was used Thursday and no arrests were made.

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