More Nazi Behavior from America’s Neo-Gestapo
Mom in minivan tasered twice in Salina traffic stop; camera captures deputy’s rough roadside arrest
In January, an Onondaga County sheriff’s deputy pulled over Audra Harmon, who had two of her kids with her in her minivan. A routine traffic stop escalated quickly.
The deputy, Sean Andrews, accused her of talking on her cell phone. She said she could prove him wrong.
He said she was speeding. She denied it and got out of the van. He told her to get back in. She did, then he ordered her back out.
He yanked her out by the arm, knocked her down with two Taser shots and charged her with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. His rationale on the disorderly conduct charge: She obstructed traffic when she got out of the van. The speeding accusation: going 50 mph in a 45-mph zone.
The scene along Hopkins Road in Salina on the afternoon of Jan. 31 was captured by a camera on the dashboard of Andrews’ patrol car. Harmon, 38, says the video is proof of police brutality.
She plans to sue the sheriff’s office today, claiming Andrews was improperly trained in the use of his Taser. It’s not supposed to be used to take down people who pose no threat, she said.
Andrews, 37, a deputy for four years, was taken off road patrol after the arrest and will remain in a new assignment until an internal affairs investigation is finished, Sheriff Kevin Walsh said. Walsh declined to comment because the case is under litigation. Andrews also would not comment. He makes $49,095 a year.
Harmon was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and going 50 in a 45 mph zone. The district attorney’s office dismissed the charges a month later — after watching the videotape, said her lawyer, Terrance Hoffmann. The prosecutor could not be reached for comment.
In his report on the arrest, Andrews makes no mention of Harmon threatening him or using foul language. He said she refused his request to get back in her van, then refused to get out when he said she was under arrest, the report said. Harmon refused to comply with his commands to put her hands behind her back to be cuffed, Andrews wrote.
Here’s Harmon’s description of that day:
Harmon, a school bus driver for 11 years, was returning home from shopping and picking up her son Casey, 15, from wrestling practice. He was in the front passenger seat. Harmon’s daughter Brandi, 5, was in the back seat. Harmon was driving on Electronics Parkway in the left lane and had to slow down to get into the right lane behind Andrews’ patrol car so she could turn onto Hopkins.
Andrews made the turn ahead of her, then immediately pulled off to the side of Hopkins Road and let Harmon pass. He quickly turned on his flashing lights and pulled her over.
Andrews told Harmon he’d seen her using her cell phone while she was driving. In the video, he makes a phone gesture with his hand. She told him she’d been driving with her right hand on her cheek, but that she hadn’t talked on the phone for at least two hours. She says she offered to let him look at the phone to see for himself. He declined.
Andrews said he also clocked her going 50 mph in a 45 mph zone. No way, Harmon recalls telling him.
“I want you to show me the tape,” she told him.
“You’ll have to take that up in court,” he responded, according to Harmon. He told her the evidence was in a box in his patrol car, and started walking back toward it. Harmon followed. That’s when he told her to get back in the van.
John Berry / The Post-Standard, 2005
From the archives
» Why Syracuse police use tasers
» Facts on tasers
She says she didn’t refuse the order but told him once more that she wanted to see his proof. Andrews drew the Taser and pointed it at her.
“Mom, get back in the car,” she recalls her son telling her. A witness, Staci Santorelli, was across the road at the Shoot ‘n’ Score soccer center and heard Andrews tell Harmon she was under arrest. Harmon also says she remembers Andrews at some point telling her she was under arrest.
“I just wanted to get back in my car where I was safe and where my kids were,” Harmon says. Andrews told her to get out.
“But you just told me to get in,” she says she told Andrews. She heard her daughter crying, “Mommy! Mommy!”
“I was not getting out of that car,” she says. “I was scared to death.” She gripped the steering wheel with both hands as Andrews grabbed her by the arm and pulled. Harmon stands 5-foot-4. Andrews is 10 inches taller. After some tugging, he got her out.
She and Andrews stood facing each other for a few seconds, talking. He had the Taser pointed at her.
“I kept saying, ‘Don’t do this in front of my kids,'” she says.
Andrews fired the Taser, but it only gave her a small jolt, apparently because it hit her winter clothing. She started to get back in the van. Andrews pulled her back, opening her front to him before he fired again. This time, Harmon dropped to her knees.
The Taser probe, like a little arrow with a fish hook, stuck in Harmon’s upper left chest. The jolt shook her.
Andrews pushed her to the ground face-first and handcuffed her in the eastbound lane of Hopkins Road. The number of witnesses across the street was growing, Harmon says.
“Are you OK? Do you need help?” Santorelli and her father yelled, according to Santorelli’s statement to deputies.
“I’m not OK, and I do need help,” Harmon responded. As Andrews picked her up and escorted her to his car, Harmon pleaded with the witnesses.
“Please come get my kids!” Harmon remembers yelling. The witnesses said they couldn’t do that, but they asked Harmon for her home number so they could call her husband. She gave it to them.
“I wanted these strangers to get my kids, because at that point I thought they’d be safer with strangers,” Harmon says. The kids sat in the car for about 40 minutes until their father arrived and took them home, which was about 500 yards away, she says.
Harmon said she wants to teach police a lesson: It’s OK to admit you’re wrong. She said Andrews manufactured the speeding charge once he realized she didn’t deserve a cell phone ticket. Andrews had not clocked her with a radar gun. Instead, he said in a report, he calculated her speed by following her for “several seconds.”
“I want the public to know these police officers apparently aren’t being trained well enough to know when it is justified to use a Taser,” she said.