Tasergate: Trooper Told He Has History of Unethical Conduct, and Will Therefore Get a Very Stern Slap on the Wrist
Tasergate update: why did Sarah Palin consider Trooper Michael “Taserman” Wooten to be a menace? Here’s part of the reason. Courtesy of Beldar comes a link to the letter which suspended Trooper Wooten for ten days.
The letter is lengthy, and so are the quotes I provide below. For those short on time, I’ll summarize the letter by paraphrasing it, as follows:
You tasered your ten-year-old stepson. You drank and drove a marked patrol car. You did other illegal things. You have a lengthy history of discipline for things like dangerous driving and using duty time for personal business. You have horrible judgment, bad moral character, and show no sign of wanting to change. Someone like you reflects badly on the department. You embarrass us all by your mere existence, and someone like you should never be a peace officer.
Ten day suspension!
I stress that this is a paraphrasing of the letter, written in my words. But read my complete post, and you will see that I have fairly summarized the essence of the letter.
If you’re short on time, just run your eyes over the parts I have bolded.
Details in the extended entry.
The violations sustained against Wooten include: “Using a Taser on your ten-year-old stepson, Payton (in a training capacity).” Also listed are illegal shooting of a cow moose, and drinking before and during the driving of a marked patrol car.
Here are some fun quotes. Again, I have bolded my favorite parts:
The judgment you have demonstrated and the choices you have made during these violations is of grave concern. The use of your department issued Taser on a ten-year old child, your stepson, Payton demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a consci[ous] choice you made to violate the department’s standards of conduct. . . . [A]s a Taser instructor, you have been well trained in the application and risks associated with the use of the weapon on a child. . . . Your lapse of proper judgment and unacceptable conduct is very serious in nature and on [its] own, this matter warrants corrective action.
Oddly, Colonel Grimes actually seems even more upset over Wooten’s illegal hunting:
The issue of the wildlife violation has even deeper ramifications. As a hunter and certainly, a law enforcement officer you knew or should have known the conditions for the drawing permit and the hunt. The fact that you are currently assigned as a wildlife crimes investigator exponentially exacerbates this violation as it is absolutely contrary to your current assignment.
Then there’s the whole “drinking while driving a patrol car” thing:
The issue of drinking alcoholic beverages (beer) prior to operating, and then during the operation of a marked patrol vehicle not only exposed the Department to liability, but further demonstrates your lack of judgment and a profound disrespect for the responsibilities of a law enforcement officer. We as police officers are held to a higher standard of conduct and duty than the average citizen. We routinely contact and prosecute those who are either driving under the influence and prosecute those who are either driving under the influence of who have open containers of alcohol in the vehicle while driving. Your conduct in this incident demonstrates a lack of good character, and a disregard for the law you are sworn to uphold. If you had been involved in an incident or an accident immediately following this event, your action would not only have involved criminal liability, but also exposed the Department to great discredit, embarrassment and additional civil liability. Of greater importance is the face that because of your actions, the integrity of every other State Trooper is in question. This is unacceptable.
Unacceptable, eh? We’ll see. Keep reading.
The letter then sets forth Wooten’s history of past disciplinary actions, including a warning, a reprimand, three “instructions,” a suspension, and a “Memorandum of Expectations.” The listed offenses include multiple complaints of unsafe driving and traffic violations, and multiple issues relating to use of duty time for personal business.
The history noted above indicates a significant pattern of judgment failures, during which you have repeatedly shown yourself incapable or unwilling to maintain a demeanor demonstrating or embracing departmental expectations for your proper and appropriate conduct. The history bears out your failure to change or correct your behavior or your inability to behave according to our canons of police ethics and rules of conduct. The findings of the administrative investigation indicate that in addition to the events addressed above, that activity sustained in the investigation was occurring concurrently. The record clearly indicates a serious and concentrated pattern of unacceptable and at times, illegal activity occurring over a lengthy period, which establishes a course of conduct totally at odds with the ethics of our profession.
That certainly sounds pretty bad.
And, quite remarkably, Colonel Grimes tells Wooten that a civilian in his place would probably be prosecuted:
The event and behavior sustained during this Administrative Investigation not only brings discredit to the department by having a trooper violate law, but also documents a continued course of conduct rife with poor judgment and violation of policy. It is nearly certain that a civilian investigated under similar circumstances would have received criminal sanctions. These events are unacceptable, constitute a gross deviation from our department’s standards, and will not be tolerated.
Will not be tolerated, huh?
Here’s the very next line of the letter:
Based on the totality of this review and your past history, you will be suspended for ten working days.
BAM! Ten day suspension, mister!!
Yup. He has engaged in a “continued course of conduct rife with poor judgment and violation of policy” and illegal conduct that would probably have gotten a civilian prosecuted. He has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be unable or unwilling to conform to departmental standards.
So . . . they decided to keep him.
Keep in mind that this isn’t everything Wooten has been alleged to have done (I didn’t mention the death threats, for example). It’s merely everything covered by this ethics complaint that was sustained.
Yeah, I guess Sarah Palin was really a bad person for wanting to do something about a guy like this.
Next scandal, please.
P.S. Maybe even funnier, in a scream-in-frustration sort of way, is that (according to Beldar) Wooten’s union actually challenged the severity of his sentence! Yup, ten days was apparently too severe for the actions you just read about.
This is the same union bringing a new ethics complaint against Sarah Palin — something that got Andrew Sullivan all excited a couple of days ago. That ought to tell you something about their credibility.
UPDATE: Taserman speaks to the Washington Post, which confirms previous reports I’d read that Wooten’s actual suspension ended up being a whopping five days and not the ten mentioned in the letter. He denies the death threats — and who wouldn’t believe a man as credible as the one described above?
Also, I have changed one sentence in my summary from “You drank and drove on the job” to “You drank and drove a marked patrol car.” Although the letter states that the Department would have been subject to liability if Wooten had gotten into an accident, possibly tending to suggest that he was on duty, we don’t know that, and a commenter points to an editorial saying that he was off duty when he drove a marked patrol car while drinking.
That editorial, by the way, asks: “If what trooper Wooten did doesn’t justify firing, what does?” (The editors didn’t positively opine that Wooten should have been fired (as I have) but make a persuasive case that the standards should be more clear.)