Advertisement
  1. News

Video: Zephyrhills police fire officer for using Taser on man who did not resist arrest

Zephyrhills Police Department fired Officer Tim Claussen for use of excessive force. In early September, Claussen used his Taser to subdue Lester Brown inside Brown's home. Claussen said Brown had resisted, but the video shows no resistance on the part of Brown. Brown had been a suspect in a shoplifting case. [Courtesy WTSP 10News
Officer Tim Claussen]
Zephyrhills Police Department fired Officer Tim Claussen for use of excessive force. In early September, Claussen used his Taser to subdue Lester Brown inside Brown's home. Claussen said Brown had resisted, but the video shows no resistance on the part of Brown. Brown had been a suspect in a shoplifting case. [Courtesy WTSP 10News
Officer Tim Claussen]
Published Oct. 3, 2015

ZEPHYRHILLS — The officer had his Taser pointed at the man when the video started.

"Come outside now," Zephyrhills police Officer Tim Claussen told the man standing inside the doorway of his home.

Lester Brown had his hands up. The officer came to Brown's home the evening of Sept. 9 to investigate a shoplifting that took place earlier that day, police said.

"Come outside now," Claussen said, "or you're about to get tased. This is the last time."

Brown, hands still up, didn't move. Moments later the video camera at the tip of the Taser showed Claussen firing the electroshock weapon. Brown tried to run but collapsed.

"You just made it a lot worse on yourself, Mr. Brown," the officer said.

"Why," said Brown, lying on his stomach, "cause I'm in my house?"

This week, Zephyrhills officials fired Claussen. An internal investigation determined "the deployment of the Taser was unjustified," said city attorney Joseph Poblick at a news conference Friday.

Police commanders said they learned of the incident while reviewing daily reports. The department started an investigation and put Claussen on leave.

They terminated him Wednesday.

"It certainly hurts to (fire an officer), but I'm here to do the right thing for the community," Zephyrhills police Chief David Shears said.

The chief added: "We're trained to know when to deploy the Taser."

The Zephyrhills Police Department fired its officer amid increasing national scrutiny of police conduct and how officers use force to subdue suspects — particularly black suspects.

Claussen, 36, is white and Brown, 42, is black. Police officials, however, said race was not a factor in the incident.

"We didn't see any evidence that it was racially motivated in any way," Capt. Derek Brewer said.

Nor, the captain said, was Claussen fired out of fear that the incident might spark public outcry. Over the past year, police use of force against blacks has incited protests across the country with activists accusing officers of unequal treatment and racial bias.

"We recognized that there was an issue and that's why we acted quickly," Brewer said. "Given the circumstances of this incident, I feel like it was the right decision."

Brewer framed the department's decision this way: "As a citizen, if you were Mr. Brown, would you have expected that type of response?"

When asked what the proper procedure would have been for Claussen to handle a suspect who was not resisting — but not complying, either — Brewer declined to answer. The captain said he could not comment because there is still an ongoing investigation into Claussen's partner, who was not identified.

Claussen's own Sept. 9 police report detailed how the incident started. A Bealls department store reported five stolen items worth $112.97.

The store's loss prevention officer told Claussen security cameras caught a man walking into a dressing room with five items. But the man walked out without them while "holding his waist area as if he had clothes concealed under his shirt," Claussen's report said.

The store said the man and a woman left in a silver Nissan whose license plate identified Brown as the owner, according to Claussen's report.

When Claussen and his partner arrived at Brown's house at 5733 20th St., the officer's report said Brown "answered … by opening the door slightly."

Here's how Claussen described the incident:

"I requested Mr. Brown exit the residence several times to conduct my investigation and he refused.

"Mr. Brown also refused to show his hands so I pulled the door to the residence open.

"I continued to give Mr. Brown verbal commands to exit the residence as he stood just inside the front door, with negative results.

"I pointed my Taser X26 at Mr. Brown, gave him several more verbal commands to exit the residence, with negative results, so I deployed my Taser probes which struck Mr. Brown in the abdomen."

Afterward, Claussen's report said he and his partner found the stolen items in Brown's home and car — except for the shoes, which Brown was wearing. The report said the woman who was with Brown at the store told officers he stole the items.

Brown was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of retail theft. But at the urging of Zephyrhills police, that charged was later dropped by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, records show.

Brown was taken to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills before he was booked into the Pasco County jail. He complained of dizziness and shoulder pain, his arrest report said, which he said was possibly related to the fall he took.

Brewer said Claussen, who spent 10 years on the force, did not have a lengthy disciplinary file. The officer had used his Taser in the past, police officials said, but those incidents were later justified.

Claussen declined to comment on Friday. He referred questions to the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, which did not return calls for comment.

At Brown's home, a woman told a reporter: "Please just leave."

Times news researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. California-based customer service company Alorica is permanently closing its call center near U.S. 301 and Adamo Drive and laying off 482 employees. [Google street view]
    The layoffs are scheduled to take place from Feb. 9 through March 27.
  2. Rodney Davis, 56, shown in video released from the Polk County Sheriff's Office of Operation Santa's Naughty List. Davis, a Disney World security guard, is accused of soliciting prostitution. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
    His arrest was one of 124 in Operation Santa’s Naughty List, a prostitution and human trafficking sting from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
  3. The Alumni Singers of St. Petersburg includes three women from Gibbs High School class of 1957. Pictured left to right are those classmates: Carolyn Hobbs, Betty Hayward, and Helen Shaw. The friends are pictured at the "Jesus is King" Christmas concert at Lakewood United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
    Three women in the Alumni Singers graduated together in Gibbs High School’s Class of 1957. On Sunday, they gave their annual Christmas concert.
  4. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. [JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer]
    The School Board will consider a $2.2 million package at its Dec. 17 meeting.
  5. New Port Richey City Hall  ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times
    The revamped Sims Park is being used more by daily visitors and events drawing thousands. The New Port Richey City Council discusses how to protect its investment.
  6. Kahlil J. Wilson threatened a mass shooting at Eckerd College after a woman, who was a student there, ended their relationship, police say. [Pinellas County Jail]
    He faces charges of making threats of a mass shooting, making written threats to kill and aggravated stalking.
  7. Clearwater police Maj. David Dalton stands with Yael Hershfield, deputy director of the Anti-Defamation League's Florida region, after receiving the league's law enforcement award Tuesday in Palm Beach. The organization recognized Dalton for “his commitment to ensuring that law enforcement personnel adhere to the highest standards of policing while treating all citizens fairly and with respect," according to a news release. [Courtesy of David Dalton] [Courtesy of David Dalton]
    Clearwater Maj. David Dalton received the Anti-Defamation League’s law enforcement award for “his commitment to ensuring that law enforcement personnel adhere to the highest standards of policing...
  8. Kayakers line up at the boat launch at Weeki Fresh Water Adventures, a kayak and stand-up paddle board rental facility in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Michele Miller]
    Study recommends limiting visitors and where they are allowed to help prevent future damage.
  9. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Hernando County School District
    School Board members agree it’s not the best way to save money.
  10. St. Petersburg police are asking for the public's help in identifying a suspect in the Monday morning shooting death of a 24-year-old man. [St. Petersburg Police Department]
    Police are hoping someone will recognize the man seen walking near the scene of the shooting.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement