Dumb words versus torture and death: Which is worse?

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From the evidence at hand I would conclude that Ex-Police Chief Robert Musco is not a racist. He was just an old white dinosaur, confident in his status, who believed he was being witty. I’m not here to defend him. What person, black or white, would not resent repeatedly being called someone’s “token?” That and Musco’s other remarks, directed at one of his African-American officers, were the very definition of “racially insensitive.” And now Musco’s gone, forced to retire.

His fate, however, makes interesting commentary about what does and does not get you into trouble in law enforcement.

Musco’s department made the news in 2006 when two white officers “Tasered” an obese, mentally ill, black woman in her wheelchair until she died.

An autopsy categorized 56-year-old Emily Delafield's death as a homicide and listed Taser shocks as a contributory cause of death. The main cause was an enlarged heart due to high blood pressure. The two officers used their Tasers for a total of more than two minutes, supposedly because Delafield had a hammer and a couple of small kitchen knives in her hands or on her lap. Her tortured screams were caught on 911 audio.

Had this incident happened post-Ferguson, Green Cove would have had the pleasure of seeing Wolf Blitzer eating at Woody’s as the city made national news. Does anyone doubt it?

The State Attorney’s Office declared the use of Tasers justified, but one assistant DA did offer an opinion that officers “could have decided upon a different approach once they realized their Tasers were not causing (the victim) to drop her weapons.”

Delafield’s family threatened to sue, and the city’s insurance paid a $100,000 settlement. No apparent harm was done to Musco’s career, nor that of the officers, both of whom later became detectives, despite having demonstrated an astonishing lack of imagination in the Delafield incident.

So which was worse: Musco’s dumb remarks or that poor woman’s death? The answer should be obvious. Yet one was a career-ender; the other, nothing more than an insurance claim.

Peter Swanson is a boating journalist for the biggest marine magazine company in the world. Prior to his career in marine journalism, Swanson served as a reporter, managing editor and editor-in-chief of multiple award-winning daily newspapers in the Northeast.

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