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Article updated: 2/3/2013 6:14 AM

Duffy mulls Taser legislation after friend's death

By Kerry Lester

The death of a friend he made on a quest to learn more about the needs of black communities has inspired a suburban state senator to look into authoring legislation regulating the use of Tasers.

"It rips my heart apart," state Sen. Dan Duffy, of Lake Barrington, said of the death of Philip Coleman, a 38-year-old hospice executive and Rainbow/Push coalition member. Coleman died Dec. 13 after police, called by Coleman's mother, used a Taser on him twice to restrain him.

Duffy, a Republican, hopes to build off previous stun-gun legislation that was introduced by Chicago Democratic Rep. Monique Davis but failed to move out of the Illinois House in the last General Assembly session.

"We need to look at stricter guidelines and training regarding the use and power of these weapons," Duffy said, noting his research after Coleman's death made him aware of higher stun-gun use against minorities.

"Maybe we could require that anytime a law enforcement officer uses a Taser, the circumstances of its use and racial profile of the person Tasered will be recorded and reported to an entity for analysis and comparison," Duffy said. "(We should) be specific in the amount of force that is being used and the reasons."

Coleman, a 1996 University of Chicago graduate who had no criminal record, was arrested the evening of Dec. 12 after police were called to the Coleman's family home on the south side of Chicago, according to police. Lena Coleman, Philip's mother, had called them after her son came to the house and became violent, striking her across the face.

Percy Coleman, a former police chief in south suburban Ford Heights and an 11-year veteran of the Cook County Sheriff's office, had returned home from his job as a parole officer around 7:15 p.m. that day to see police cars and ambulances on his block. He thought they must have been called for a neighbor, until he saw his son moving about the alley behind the 12800 block of South Morgan Avenue, acting erratically.

Percy Coleman said he never had seen his son act in such a way before.

"He was all over the place," Percy Coleman said of the things his son was saying. He saw Philip get down on his knees in the alley, and say, "Shoot me, shoot me. Anybody who hits their mother is sick."

Percy Coleman said that he witnessed police draw their weapons on his son outside his home after an officer thought Philip spit at her. By wrapping his arm's around Philip's waist, Percy Coleman said he helped bring him to the ground. Police handcuffed Philip and took him away in a squad car.

It was the last time any family member saw Philip Coleman alive.

The next morning, police reported, a Taser was used to "gain control of the subject" as he was being taken from the 111th Street police station to the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue, where his father was waiting for him.

Philip Coleman never made it to court. He was taken instead to Roseland Community Hospital, where a Taser was again used on him to gain control. He was given a sedative and was pronounced dead at 5:47 p.m. An autopsy has proved inconclusive.

The Independent Police Review Authority is investigating the matter. Percy Coleman in late December filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city, in the belief police did not follow proper procedures and a use of excessive force led to his son's death.

Chicago police have yet to comment.

"I know the routine," Percy Coleman said. "If they brought my son to that hospital, he'd be a patient. The only thing police are there to do is to make sure he doesn't get up and run."

Duffy, in the meantime, has been researching statistics on the increasing use of stun guns and deaths related to them.

According to the Police Review Authority, Chicago police used Tasers 710 times in 2012. In the 5th District, where Philip Coleman was arrested, police used Tasers 48 times that year.

An analysis of the data shows police use Tasers frequently in high-minority police districts. For instance, Tasers were used 62 times last year in both the city's Gresham and Englewood neighborhoods, 59 and 62 of those times on blacks, respectively.

In all, 667 of the 710 individuals Tasered by police were black. Just 43 of them were white.

According to the Review Authority, there was only one Taser-related fatality last year in Chicago. It was Philip Coleman.

The figures, Duffy said, raise questions about how often police in Chicago and around the state use the weapons, and whether they are being properly used.

"While most people realize that a Taser may be necessary in the continuum of less than lethal force, it is becoming used too frequently as the initial response to an uncooperative person. Why is that?" Duffy asked.

Police in many suburbs use stun guns. Police are trained to use the devices on a yearly basis, and training often includes the officers being stunned with a stun gun by colleagues so they understand what it feels like, Wauconda Police Chief Doug Larsson said.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police sets up guidelines for using Tasers and stun guns, but there is little legislation on the books about their use.

Police are authorized to use Tasers in a wide range of situations, and law enforcement officials frequently cite their usefulness.

"If the Taser was not available, we would be using night sticks, bare hands, chemical sprays and weapons," Larsson said. "The Taser is an incredibly useful tool. It keeps both the arrestee and the suspect from getting injured."

But with questions surrounding Philip Coleman's death, Duffy is calling for "better judgment and discretion before you're out playing with a Taser."

"Even though it's not a gun, it's just as powerful," he said.

Duffy got to know the Coleman family during Barbershop Tours on the south side of Chicago, which are organized and sponsored by the Young Government group, run by Philip Coleman's older brother, Jeffery Coleman.

Through elected officials' tours of community gathering spots, including neighborhood barbershops, the Young Government group aims to make both "Republican and Democratic powers recognize newly energized and better educated groups of voters," according to the organization's mission statement.

"We need to learn about people outside of our own neighborhoods," Duffy said. "I have done that, and here's an issue."

Laws: Police official says stun guns prevent use of night sticks, chemical sprays

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