Police Taser Naked Wizard at Coachella


Naked Wizard Tased By Reality from Tracy Anderson on Vimeo.

A six-minute video that is now quickly making the rounds around the Internet (see above) depicts a naked man at the Coachella Music Festival being tasered by police. The Desert Sun has the best summary of events, but essentially Johnathan Frederick Feich, a 23-year-old-man, ran around naked without his wizard costume. Three police approached him — two from Indio and one from Banning — trying to persuade him to put on his costume.

“I’ll tell you what,” says one of the officers. “You can have a great time, but you can have an even better time if you put your clothes on. Can I get them for you?”

According to the Sun article, Indio Police Department spokesman Ben Guitron claimed that it was the officer from Banning who elected to use the taser.

If this was indeed the case, then the Banning Police Department’s Departmental Policy and Procedures (PDF) suggests that the officer may be out of line in using his taser.

According to Policy 309.2(d), an Electronic Control Device can only be used to overcome resistance from violent or potentially violent subjects. And while the Policy doesn’t specify a requirement that the subject has to strike the officer, the officer must have “sufficient information (i.e., verbal threats, verbal defiance, or physical stance) to believe that a person is physically threatening and has the present ability to inflict harm.”

The Banning Police Department has not yet returned calls to reporters. The Indio Police Department stands by the actions of its officers. I will be making some calls this afternoon and I will attempt to obtain the police report.

The question that the investigators will have to answer is whether Feich’s actions constituted a potential for violence. The other question is whether repeated tasers to the skull, the heart, and other areas constitute use of an ECD that is acceptable under the circumstance. Is a man who throws his clothes off violent? And why didn’t the police officers escort Feich from the facilities and avoid a public spectacle?

UPDATE: I spoke with a very helpful woman in the Records Department at the Indio Police Department. She tells me that there isn’t a police report that they have available. (I gave her the name and the time of the incident. She didn’t recognize the name, but she certainly knew “naked guy.”) It appears that Mr. Felch may have been taken to a jail and a command center nearby the festival, but not directly to police headquarters. I have also left a voicemail with police spokesman Ben Guitron and I hope to put forth a number of questions to him about this matter.

UPDATE 2: I have not heard back from the Banning Police Department. Mr. Guitron has been inundated with media calls, but I will be putting forth questions to him very soon.

UPDATE 3: On Friday afternoon, I spoke for about ten minutes with the very polite and very helpful Ben Guitron of the Indio Police Department. He was very generous with his time and his answers. Mr. Guitron informed me that Indio didn’t have enough staff in place for Coachella. For large events like Coachella, the IPD regularly coordiantes with four municipal agencies for events of this size. And in the case of Mr. Felch (apparently pronounced “Fletch”), the IPD partnered up with the Banning Police Department. Mr. Guitron told me that the BPD has the arrest report.

I have left a few messages with the BPD and have heard nothing back from them, and I will continue my attempts until I can obtain a copy of the report. Apparently, the investigating and arresting officer was BPD, which meant that the BPD controls jurisdiction. When I asked Mr. Guitron if it was the IPD’s position that the BPD bore the responsibility for ECD use, he said that this was indeed the case. I also tried pressing him on whether he considered Mr. Felch to be violent, and he again deferred to Banning. But he did note that the three officers’ behavior was guided very much by firm policies and their training and experience.

Here’s what happened, according to Mr. Guitron: There was a call from Coachella. The gist? Some gentleman appears to be on drugs or alcohol. He appears to be very drunk and naked. The three officers moved in. The reason that they did not take Mr. Felch away from the crowd was because one of the officers was attempting to keep a lookout for one of Mr. Felch’s friends. As Mr. Guitron explained to me, “With a large crowd, there has to be an officer watching the crowd.” The officers tried to talk Mr. Felch into putting on his clothes and, as Mr. Guitron conveyed to me, “This lasted longer than expected.”

“In our perspective,” said Mr. Guitron, “nobody’s looking for a violent tack.” But because Mr. Felch did not obey the officers’s orders and refused to be cuffed, this exacerbated the circumstances and caused the ECD (i.e., the taser) to be used.

The IPD is very well aware that cameras document these arrests at large events. As he told me, “Everybody uses their camera. It was to be expected. I mean, we’ve had people with nudity who have been drunk before. Girls without their tops.”

Of course, nobody at the IPD expected all this to hit the Internet as much as it did. And there remain additional questions. First, did Mr. Felch come to Coachella with friends and why didn’t they help him or talk him down? Second, why did the Banning Police Department use an ECD for a nonviolent act of authoritarianism? I hope to determine the answers to these questions as my investigations continue.

UPDATE 4: This Vancouver Sun story reveals that Felch was arrested and released on $2,500 bail.

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12 Comments

  1. “It appears that Mr. Felch may have been taken to a jail and a command center nearby the festival, but not directly to police headquarters.”

    Oh no… Ed… you didn’t. *Mr. Felch*?

  2. Good reporting on this. Keep it coming.

  3. OUTONBAILFROMINDIOJAIL April 25, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I CAN CONFIRM THAT MR. FELCH WAS PLACED IN INDIO JAIL, AS I TOO WAS THROWN IN THERE @ COACHELLA, THE SAME OFFICER FROM BANNING WHICH I RECOGNIZED FROM THIS VIDEO USED EXCESSIVE FORCE SLAMMING MR. FELCHES HEAD REPEATEDLY ON THE VAN AND SLAMMING HIM BACK FIRST ON THE SEATS, I ALONG WITH OTHERS BEING TRANSPORTED TO INDIO JAIL WITNESSED THIS SECOND USE OF FORCE.

  4. The cops displayed excellent restraint. He should have been beaten senseless ala Rodney King.

  5. No one (cops included) has the authority to harm another person, and especially not a completely harmless and non-violent person, and ESPECIALLY not someone who is obviously in a chemically induced sensitive state.

    Cops were not even necessary in this instance; the man didn’t need to be “subdued”. He needed to be talked down. Since the cops didn’t have the patience to do so, they tased him instead and bullied him to the ground, and then they continued to tase him in a manner that was physically dangerous, possibly life threatening, and way beyond uncalled for.

    Tasers are for self defense, not for convincing hippies on E to put their wizard suits back on.

  6. The cops were well within their rights, and under most policy they could/would have used clubs on the back of his legs to get him to the ground.

    You people are silly.

    I feel for the guy, because he was just trying to have a good time and probably bit off more than he could chew…

    But he had it coming… and they were very civil

  7. I like the well-conditioned sheep who justify convenience-tasering.

  8. In defense of the “well-conditioned sheep,” so to speak, that was not a convenience-taser. Have you ever tried to handcuff someone? It is very difficult to handcuff someone who does not want to be handcuffed. And the aternative means to get someone into handcuffs are much more violent than a taser, I assure you. Furthermore, CA police officers are not required to “retreat or desist in their duties because of any resistance,” be that from the subject or the crowd. Don’t like anti-nudity laws? Talk to your local representative to have it changed. That use of ECD was textbook, and only used as a last resort. As far as a fighting stance/violent behavior? Didn’t you watch as Mr. Felch started turning and pulling away? He was actively resisting a peace officer..is the officer expected to predict the man’s next move? He doesn’t need to wait to be struck before deploying a taser, only have reasonble cause to believe that he may be in harm. So you have a chemically altered (possibly) subject who is actively resisting the officers, then attempts to pull away from them after repeated attempts to control using verbal and physical means? Good job to the officers involved.

  9. One last thing. Do I get to call everyone who agrees with you “well conditioned sheep” too?

  10. and as for Heather, indeed police DO have they authority to harm people. Guess what….they even kill people sometimes. “In self defense or in the defense of another, or pursuit of a fleeing felon, where their escape puts the welfare of the public into danger of great bodily injury or death.” Pick up a CA Penal Code. Go to the 830′s section.

  11. Fuck you, Steve. Fucking nazi.

  12. Steve, you are a worthless fascist.

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