COLLEGEDALE, Tenn. — Two Collegedale, Tenn., police officers mistook a cleaning lady for a burglar at a middle school and used a Taser to stop her when she ran from them earlier this month, according to police records obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Now some experts are saying the officers used too much force while others say the officers acted within policy. The officers detailed their actions on Jan. 11 in a four-page affidavit.
Sgt. Jamie Heath and Officer Brian Desmond responded to Ooltewah Middle School at about 8:20 p.m. on Jan. 11 after Desmond noticed an open door at the facility, Heath wrote in the report obtained by the Times Free Press.
The officers decided to check the school and began to clear the building with their guns drawn, Heath wrote.
Once inside the school, the officers found cleaning supplies outside a restroom and discussed whether or not cleaning staff were working. They weren’t sure, according to the report. The report did not say whether the men announced their presence as police officers while inside the school.
As the officers were checking a room, a woman wearing a T-shirt with the letters “ABM” on the front walked into the room. She was not carrying anything.
“She obviously noticed us, as she looked directly at us, appearing to be nervous and somewhat reserved,” Heath wrote in the report.
The officers kept their weapons drawn but not pointed at the woman, Heath wrote. When officers asked the woman to identify herself, she answered every question with “No” because she didn’t speak English, the report said.
According to the report, the officers asked her for “identificacion” and “licencia” but the woman slowly walked out of the room.
Heath yelled “alto” — the Spanish word for stop — and the woman began to run away. The officers chased her, running through the school’s cafeteria, down a flight of stairs, out the building and into the parking lot. Heath wrote in his report that he warned her to stop or she would be shot with a stun gun.
When the woman didn’t stop, Heath deployed his Taser, which hit the woman and caused her to fall to the ground. The officers then called for medical attention.
The woman gave several different names to officers and seemed to have trouble understanding both Spanish and English, the Times Free Press reports. She was identified as an employee of the cleaning company ABM, which regularly works in the school.
The woman was charged with evading arrested and booked into jail under the identity Juana Raymundo, 36. She was released on a $750 bond.
Nashville attorney Andrew Free told the Times Free Press that while the report was very detailed in some areas, it raised questions in others. He specifically focused on whether or not the men properly identified themselves as officers and questioned why they didn’t holster their weapons when the woman didn’t act in a threatening way.
Jon Shane, a former New Jersey police captain and current professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told the Times Free Press he believes the officers acted appropriately.
“It sounds like a clear case of reasonable force,” he said. “The officers must be right about the law when using force, but they can be mistaken about the facts. In this instance, the law would allow the officers to use a Taser to subdue a fleeing burglar, but the fact is that the woman was not a burglar.”
Raymundo is scheduled to appear in Collegedale Municipal Court March 2.