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Editorial: Mistletoe mayhem

Itís a given that office Christmas parties can get out of hand. But the Taser shenanigans that erupted earlier this month at an East Spencer Fire Department party boggle belief, creating another distraction for municipal officials trying to stabilize departments already wracked by recent upheavals.
Whatís particularly shocking ó and we donít mean that as a bad pun ó is the personnel involved. The Rowan sheriffís report describes two firefighters treating a police officerís Taser as a toy and inflicting multiple jolts on a junior firefighter during the Dec. 10 party. It would be bad enough if the incident had simply involved knuckle-headed civilians. Itís infinitely worse when supposed professionals responsible for public safety display such abysmal judgment
So far, the incident apparently has cost one of those involved his job. Part-time East Spencer Police Officer James Lambeth, who was on duty at the time, allowed the two firefighters to borrow his Taser, according to sheriffís investigators. He resigned on Dec. 15, after the investigation began, and is charged with a misdemeanor. The firefighters, Chief Shane Cranfield and Allen Carlyle, a former chief, face misdemeanor assault charges. Based on the investigatorsí report, they also should be off the force.
Whatever the ultimate consequences may be, they and their target should still consider themselves lucky. Even when properly used, Tasers and other stun guns are powerful and potentially harmful weapons, with continuing debate over their safety and suitability as a law-enforcement tool. Some law-enforcement departments have either suspended or discontinued their use because of incidents in which suspects have died after being Tasered. Just this week in Fayetteville, for example, a man collapsed and was in critical condition after police used a stun gun to subdue him during a brawl.
And in many if not most of those incidents, officers followed the proper protocol in discharging their weapons. Obviously, that wasnít the case at the East Spencer party. The victim was Tasered nine times, according to the investigative report based on eyewitness accounts. The 18-year-old is lucky to have escaped with a bad scare. The outcome could have been far worse.
Such an incident would be troubling for any municipality but especially so East Spencer, where the police chief and an assistant were fired earlier this year, and the former fire chief resigned in 2010. Departmental disruptions are no excuse for this kind of individual lapse. Whenever something like this occurs, you always wonder: What were they thinking? And the inevitable answer: They werenít.

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