A state trooper in Florida profiled and then used excessive force when he fired a stun gun at a teenager who was in his girlfriend’s backyard waiting to see her, the boy’s mother said Wednesday.
Kristina Rodeman’s son, Jack, 16, who she said is biracial, was in his girlfriend’s backyard in Fort Myers on June 16 when a Florida Highway Patrol trooper is seen on private video asking the teenager to put his hands behind his back.
When Jack ignores the order, the trooper tases him, and the boy falls and hits his head and back against a fire pit.
“He was profiled because he is Black in black clothes. There is no doubt in my mind,” Rodeman said. “He wasn’t doing anything wrong. He literally was just walking down the street going to his girlfriend’s.”
Images of the incident captured in a video provided to Rodeman by the family of Jack’s girlfriend caused her to “lose her breath,” she said. “When I seen the video, I thought, ‘Oh, my God. That hurt my heart.’”
Officials with the highway patrol did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday. NBC affiliate WBBH in Fort Myers reported the department is conducting an internal investigation.
Rodeman provided NBC News with the probable cause statement written by the trooper who arrested her son last week.
The trooper was identified in the report as George Smyrnios. In his report, the trooper said the teen was dressed in suspicious clothing when he turned into a private neighborhood named Timber Lake.
“I saw the defendant (a suspicious person) dressed in black pants, black sweater/hoodie, and black tennis shoes,” said the probable cause report. Smyrnios wrote the teen saw his patrol vehicle and darted away and hid in thick shrubbery, which made him more suspicious. The teen walked onto a backyard, the report said.
“His behavior, demeanor and body language appeared to be a burglar. It looked to me like he had just committed a crime or was about to commit a crime,” Smyrnios wrote.
The trooper then motioned with his hand for the teenager to come to him. The boy said no, the report read. Smyrnios asked again, telling the teen he’s a police officer.
The teen entered a different backyard and Smyrnios then pulled out his taser and told the teen he would use it against him if he didn’t comply.
“The red dots were placed on his back and I deployed the Taser. The probes struck his upper, right shoulder and upper, right buttock,” Smyrnios wrote. “The defendant fell to the ground. I told him to place his hands behind his back. He failed to comply so I activated the Taser again,” the probable cause statement said.
Jack was arrested and charged with failing to obey a lawful order, resisting without violence and possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana, Smyrnios’ report said.
The report and Rodeman said Jack took a bottle of her prescription marijuana without permission.
Jack’s attorney, Derek Tyler, said it was unclear how many times Smyrnios fired the stun gun, but Jack said it was four times.
“This was completely unjustified, and I believe it amounts to torture,” Tyler said. “There is no justification for his actions.”
Jack was being held at a juvenile detention center following his arrest and was suffering with back pain after falling onto the fire pit, Tyler said.
The path the teen took to get to his girlfriend’s home was the same one he took every day, cutting through the bushes, Tyler said.
Brian Higgins, a retired police chief with the former Bergen County Police Department in New Jersey, said the video shows multiple questionable decisions by the trooper and that he unnecessarily deployed the weapon.
Higgins, who is also an adjunct lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said the trooper unnecessarily deployed the weapon.
“The taser was originally designed to be another option to avoid use of deadly force,” said Higgins, an adjunct lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. “It was not necessarily meant to be a weapon to make sure someone follows your instruction.
“There is not an ongoing struggle,” he continued. “There is not a threat of a weapon or any other use of force.”
The trooper was not justified in tasing the teen a second time while he was on the ground in pain, Higgins said.
“To hit him a second time, there should be some justifiable reason for that.” he said. “Is it just the kid wasn’t moving fast enough? He had just been tased.”
Rodeman visited her son at the juvenile detention center Wednesday, and said the ordeal has been difficult on him and her family.
“Last night, I just fell apart, and today, I’m just falling apart,” she said, starting to cry. “I hate for anybody to lose their job. But what he did was wrong. “I want justice for my son.”