Sunday, June 24, 2018
Public safety

Family, neighbors question police decision to Taser man trying to fight house fire

PINELLAS PARK — Family and friends of a man shot with a Taser Thursday night as he tried to battle a house fire with a garden hose said they are baffled by authorities' actions.

"He was just doing what anybody would do," Angela Jensen, 42, said of her husband Dan. "He was trying to protect his house and help his neighbors."

Dan Jensen, 42, was still too upset to talk on Friday, but that didn't stop residents in his tight-knit neighborhood from sharing their views.

Many said they don't think it was right that police used such force with Jensen, who woke up from a nap when his wife started screaming about a fire next door at 3420 Beechwood Terrace N.

The fire already had engulfed that home and a fence between the two houses. Flames were licking the corner of the Jensens' home by the time the father of two came outside in his underwear.

Jensen stood on tiny strip of lawn between the two homes and emptied a fire extinguisher. He ran inside, slipped on pants and returned outside, grabbing his garden hose.

Firefighters had not yet arrived, but police soon did.

Officers told Dan Jensen to back off. He did, but then at some point went to pick up the hose again. That's when an officer hit him with a Taser in the back.

"We're not saying everything police do is wrong, but they could have handled it differently," said neighbor Ed Gorecki, 48.

Pinellas Park Capt. Sanfield Forseth said although Dan Jensen wasn't physically fighting officers, they feared for his safety — and their own.

"They felt that if they went hands on with him, that there was a high possibility he would fight with them," Forseth said, noting that Dan Jensen was visibly frustrated and yelling. Officers had ordered him to get back. "He wasn't fighting but he was ignoring."

There was a good reason for that, his neighbors said. Residents of the area, called Park Place Estates, stick together. They know each other's names. They babysit each other's children. They go fishing, and have cookouts.

The family that lost their home Thursday had been there 20 years. The Jensens have lived next door for a dozen of those.

"When one of us needs, the others help," Gorecki said.

On Friday, the neighbors met and were trying to gather supplies for the Souvannalay family, who emigrated from their native Laos in 1990. The husband, a commercial fisherman, is distraught, neighbors said. He isn't sure how he will support his family.

The Red Cross is putting the family up for one more night.

Dan Jensen's daughter, Marina, asked for donations on Facebook. During the commotion Thursday, her father believed she was still inside the house.

He hadn't seen the 17-year-old exit the front door with her mom, brother and their pets. Angela Jensen said that is part of the reason Jensen didn't want to back down.

"I'd have done the same thing," said neighbor William Adams, 38.

Paramedics rushed Dan Jensen to the hospital after he was incapacitated. Authorities said he suffered smoke inhalation.

It took firefighters 20 to 30 minutes to extinguish the blaze.

Ladda Sipayboun, who lived in the burned house with her parents, said the family was preparing to cook fish for dinner on a backyard grill. Someone left the frying pan unattended, the 29-year-old said.

Forseth said officers made a "split-second decision" about the type of force to use. Officer Daniel Sosa-Jones was a few feet away — maybe arm's length — from Dan Jensen.

The officer will have to do a defensive action report; administrative staff have already reviewed the incident.

"I think we can all sympathize with the guy," Forseth said. "But the police give orders and instructions for a reason. Sometimes people are acting out of passion and they don't realize the danger they might be putting themselves in."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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