Citizen Review Board May Investigate Use of Police Taser on Matthew Shaun Murphy Three Years Ago

It was early morning July 6, 2000.  In a dark alley in Key West, Officer Michael Beerbower had Daniel Holte Stambaugh, 22, handcuffed in the back of his police cruiser. Beerbower was on top of Stambaugh’s co-defendant Jessie Gene Gregory, 19, also handcuffed.  Other officers were standing watch.  When they yelled, “Clear!” (it meant that there were no witnesses) Beerbower would allegedly then go on, alternately punching Gregory and then Stambaugh in the face.

But that “private” police matter would come out in The Blue Paper and later in the New York Times. In spite of public indignation, the police department appeared unwilling to fire or even discipline any of the officers involved.   Public discontent grew into a grass roots movement to create an independent board overseeing the Key West Police Department.  A referendum passed with 60% in favor on November 2, 2002.   The CRB (Citizen Review Board) was born.

Today, over 10 years later, in the midst of another KWPD scandal (again getting national attention) some CRB members have begun to question whether the Board should wait any longer to start tackling the issues.

tom-milone

Tom Milone

“We are obviously very concerned with what happened to Charles Eimers and now I have concerns over what happened to Matthew Shaun Murphy,” says Tom Milone, a CRB board member since 2011.  Eimers died after being arrested by KWPD officers last Thanksgiving and Murphy, who was tased by police on Duval Street three years ago, is still in a hospital bed unable to walk , talk, or feed himself.

Milone has proposed that a special meeting of the CRB be set for sometime this month to discuss whether or not the Board should investigate the police incident involving Murphy.

Many people feel this could be a turning point; the moment of truth for the CRB.  “This is what the CRB was created for,” says Christine Russel, a well known local government watchdog, “If they don’t take on this case, I think people will believe the CRB has become irrelevant.”

The CRB’s relationship with KWPD and especially the police union [Police Benevolent Association – PBA] has been tense from the start, “We have subpoena power, but I don’t believe we’ve ever used it,” says Milone,  “We usually invite police officers to come tell their side of the story, but they rarely show up.”

So what can the CRB really do?  “We have an attorney, board members with law enforcement experience, an executive director, and money,” says Milone,  “Based on the information we have so far, FDLE did not investigate what happened to that young man [Murphy] and I think we should know more about it.”

Charles Eimers’ death is still under investigation with FDLE; but the Murphy incident is not.

“There’s no reason why the CRB couldn’t look into what happened in the Murphy case,” says Milone, “I have many questions.  I think we need to address what the proper procedure for deployment of a Taser is and we need to know if the proper procedure was used.”

Florida Statute regulates the use of  police Tasers,

943.1717 Use of dart-firing stun guns.—

(1) A decision by a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer to use a dart-firing stun gun must involve an arrest or a custodial situation during which the person who is the subject of the arrest or custody escalates resistance to the officer from passive physical resistance to active physical resistance and the person:

(a) Has the apparent ability to physically threaten the officer or others; or

(b) Is preparing or attempting to flee or escape.

It does appear that resistance to the officer is an absolute requirement. What if the person being tased didn’t even know the officer was there?

“There is an important factual issue in this case as to what kind of warning, if any, was given to Murphy that night before he was tased and suffered that horrible injury.” says Milone.

“Another big issue,” he observes, “is that it appears that most of the eyewitnesses were not interviewed and that police officers didn’t even take down their contact information. It is very hard to find out the truth if witnesses are not identified and interviewed.”

We asked Milone if he thought the CRB should question FDLE.  “The CRB doesn’t have jurisdiction over FDLE, but they signed an agreement with the City obligating them to investigate any death or serious injury that occurs as a result of any KWPD officer’s interaction with a suspect. I think we have the right to ask them about their part of the bargain and about why they didn’t investigate.”

FDLE sent Special Agent Paul Marcus to Jackson Memorial Hospital two days after the tasing.  Marcus described finding Murphy “listed in critical condition and observed to be on a ventilator.”  Yet the same 14-line “report” concludes with, “no other investigative steps were taken.”  According to FDLE that was the extent of their involvement in the matter.  The agreement between the City and FDLE clearly requires FDLE to investigate any death or serious injury inflicted by KWPD officers.

One fascinating aspect of the Murphy case is that it seems to be the model, the ‘crystal ball’ revealing what would have happened in the Eimers investigation, had the press not become aware of it.

It looks as though the first thing police officers do when there’s any trouble is to chase the civilian witnesses away under the cover of “crowd control.”  In Murphy’s case, it appears they even chased away a prime eyewitness, his fiancé, who says the officer scared her off with his Taser. The second move is to overwhelm the crime scene with as many officers as are available (up to 13 in the Eimer’s case).  Those officers would then become the prime witnesses.

Then begins the “investigation” of true Kafkaesque dimension.  Granted, in Murphy’s case, law enforcement personnel didn’t have an opportunity to lose a body of evidence on a conveyor belt headed toward cremation, instead they simply pretended that Murphy was gone – at large – a fugitive from the law.  Rather than investigating, they listed him as a ”wanted person.”

There are many unanswered questions in the Murphy case:

  • Why is Chief Donie Lee insisting that the officer had yelled “verbal commands to separate and stop fighting” when this fact is contradicted not only by eyewitnesses, but even by the police incident reports [including the on-duty supervisor’s after the fact review.]
  • Was there “resistance” on Murphy’s part sufficient to allow the use of a Taser?
  • Why is Murphy on the “wanted list” and who should be paying his hospital bill?
  • Why is there no record containing all eyewitness contact information and testimony?

The CRB may decide this month whether or not to get involved.

Stay tuned.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For all Blue Paper coverage regarding Matthew Shaun Murphy click here.


Key West The Newspaper [The Blue Paper] encourages spirited, open debate in comments on our stories. We do ask that you refrain from profanity, personal attacks and remarks that are off point. Please join the conversation!

10 comments on “Citizen Review Board May Investigate Use of Police Taser on Matthew Shaun Murphy Three Years Ago

  1. I don’t feel any sense of urgency nor real interest coming from the CRB. Their depraved indifference and silence are the reasons why this particular type of evil has been persuasive.

    Infected by the endemic toxins associated with a fearful and corrupted position of importance, they prefer basking in their title, rather than rolling up their sleeves and leveling any authority that abuses, injures or kills its citizens.

    Their relevancy and utilitarian role in matters of authentic importance, has been diminished and absent.

    I’m cognizant of what the willpower of one individual can accomplish, if they really want to secure a particular goal or objective; such as protecting and serving the community that they represent.

    Tom Milone appears to be a man of courage and honor. He can proceed full speed ahead with what needs to be done, if he so desires. Exposing all those that interfere or impede his efforts to accurately investigate the Murphy and Eimers’ case.

  2. I was one of many KW residents who worked to get the CRB on the referendum, and then we campaigned for its passage. The City Commission, Jimmy Weekley then was Mayor, the KWPD strongly opposed having a CRB. The referendum passed overwhelmingly. The heavy hitter in bringing that about was Dennis Reeves Cooper and Key West the Newspaper, of which Dennis then was Publisher and Editor.

    As time passed, I came to the same conclusion about the CRB as John Donnelly wrote. I attended several CRB meetings in the past maybe 6 months. Tom Milone, and to some extent Joe Pais, were the only CRB members seemed to want the CRB to be proactive.

    We are not in a the CRB “may” investigate posture in either of the two high profile cases: Eimers and Murphy. We are in a the CRB MUST investigate posture.

    The CRB does not have the power to force KW police officers to come before it an testify. The CRB does not have the power to discipline KW police officers. The CRB does not have the power to make FDLE do anything. But, the CRB has the power to put the police officers involved in those two cases, and KWPD, and City Manager Bob Vitas, to whom Chief Lee answers, and the City Commission (mayor and city commissioners), to whom Vitas answers, and FDLE on the hot seat in the court of public opinion and in God’s Court, where the usual suspects, including the CRB, are on trial.

  3. tom go at it full force and i sure do hope the crb is in unanimous support and digs in to this apparent again heavy handed ‘cop attack’ on a citizen in key west leaving him maimed for life in this instant.

    i’ve said it all before in the emiers case and say it once again there is an element in the police department that needs be removed and the department is in desperate need of a big clean up. its apparent lee is not the one for this task. perhaps he be better suited on an advisory/regulatory board like the tree commission where his policy practice can only hurt wood.

  4. I’m confused about the 911 call as it was not mentioned in the interview and because by all accounts Ms.Beverly was the one who instigated the fight. In the 911 tape I thought I heard her lovely voice yelling out that the cops were on their way. Could you elaborate as to the timeline of the 911 call? Gracias.

  5. Also, curious as to what accounts of positive effect this CRB has had on the fair city of Key West since its inception. Can someone list or point me in the direction of knowledge? Gracias.

  6. I don’t see any change in KWPD since CRB was formed. After several CRB members said at the last CRB meeting that there were only two complaints filed with the CRB in the past year, indicating the CRB is causing the KWPD to police it’s own, I told them during citizen comments that maybe the CRB getting only 2 complaints in a year means the public doesn’t have faith in the CRB. Did that possibility ever occur to them? I said homeless people have treated me like their CRB, telling me how they and other homeless people are treated by the KWPD. I said homeless people don’t use the CRB for two reasons: they don”t trust the CRB, and they are terrified of police retaliation, and their terror is for good reason.

    That was after I had tried to speak to their choosing a new Executive Director, before they did the choosing, and I was told citizens didn’t get to speak to that item. CRB member Tom Milone said it was an action item and he wanted to hear from citizens before they voted on the new Executive Secretary, but when he made a motion to that effect, nobody seconded it. Not even Joe Pais, which surprised me. From the floor, I said, “That’s why the public doesn’t trust you (the CRB).”

    They then picked yet another former CRB member to be their Executive Director. The best candidate, I felt, was a retired FBI special agent, currently an investigator for the Department of Family Services. He came in a close second in the voting.

    I also told them during citizen comments that I’d been to a lot of different kinds of city government meetings, and the CRB was the only city agency where I had seen citizens not be allowed to speak to an action item. I should have added, that meant the CRB could care less about what citizens think about who they hire for their Executive Director, or anything else citizens might have to say.

    A friend pointed out earlier today that my comment that the CRB cannot subpoena police officers was incorrect, but would the CRB ever do it? And would subpoenaed cops honor a subpoena? And would they say anything to the CRB if they came before it? And would the CRB ever be able to enforce a subpoena?

    I agreed on all points, and said it might be the CRB cannot enforce a subpoena easily. Might have to get a judge to order it obeyed. That could take a while, cost money, and I imagine the benevolent police union would fight it every inch of the way.

  7. So much for a CITIZENS Review Board. How much does the full time Exec. Director get paid for this harrowing work anyway? Couldn’t some of you keep an eye on daily police reports and bring any perceived discrepancies to the CRB? Or does the complaint have to come from an alleged victim? Does the CRB have a sign posted at the police station stating that if a person doesn’t believe their complaints are being honored at the station that they can call the CRB for review? And why would former law enforcement officers be a good choice for overseeing current law enforcement officers?

  8. Sister, during his interview, the former FBI special agent said told the CRB prosecuted two public corruption cases in which law enforcement officers were involved. I imagine everyone who lives in Key West knows about the CRB. New comers and visitors usually don’t know. The CRB has the power to initiate its own investigation at any time, but has chosen, tactically, which which I agree, to give the KWPD the first shot at investigating its own officers. CRB has no power to discipline officers, in any event. It’s a watchdog agency. The Executive Director is paid about $45,000, without any benefits. It’s basically a clerical job. Required to stay in the office most of the time, to field phone calls, correspondence and any walk-ins. I know Key West fairly well. And its ways. I don’t see the city changing, absent something unexpected, maybe something cosmic, which bends the present paradigm beyond return. Perhaps the Charles Eimers case will become that catalyst. Perhaps it will take something far more jolting. Meanwhile, the blue paper keeps pecking away, like the good gadfly it is. Gadfly, in the Socrates sense.

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