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.
© 2009, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.