Jurors in Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla’s court will decide this week if deputies from the Madison County Sheriff’s department used excessive force when they arrested a 20-year-old Macoupin County woman six years ago after suspecting her of drinking and driving.
Opening arguments started Tuesday in Kelsi Baker’s case against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department for using a taser on her when she was found in an Alton man’s driveway at 1:42 a.m. on Feb. 20, 2006.
Baker is suing the sheriff’s department and deputies Jeremy Stumpf and Stewart Stiverson for more than $50,000 after they allegedly tased her no less than 10 times during her arrest.
Plaintiff’s attorney Greg Fenlon claims that as a result of the tasing, Baker has suffered bouts of anxiety and recurring nightmares. She has flashbacks of screaming, being in pain, difficulty concentrating and is afraid to go anywhere police officers might be, Fenlon said during opening arguments Tuesday.
“The bottom line is this really, really messed her up,” Fenlon said. “Prior to Feb. 20, 2006, she had the greatest respect for police.”
On the night prior to her arrest, Baker had worked until 11 p.m. at Charlie Gitto’s in Maryland Heights, and then met a friend at a restaurant in Godfrey from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
“On her way home, she decided it was not safe for her to drive,” Fenlon said. “She went to a driveway, to a point of safety.”
The driveway she parked in at 2832 Harris Lane in Alton was owned by Maurice D. File, who called the sheriff’s department when he heard noises outside.
Officer Stumpf arrived at the scene at 1:42 a.m. and found Baker in her 2004 Oldsmobile Alero. Her lights were on, the engine was on, and the brake lights were illuminated, according to Fenlon.
As Stumpf approached from the driver’s side, he did not alert Baker that he was present, did not make any attempt to get her attention, and instead went to his car to get a lock-out kit, according to Fenlon.
At around 1:44 a.m., Stiver arrived at the scene and approached the passenger’s side of the vehicle, he said.
“The evidence will show Kelsi Baker never made a verbal threat to either of these two officers,” Fenlon said.
“Baker did the right thing.”
Fenlon went on to say that Baker did not harm anyone and was not a threat. He said the officers had no idea why she was not responsive and they did not call an ambulance.
“Each one of these defendants has given contradictory statements,” Fenlon said.
Officers unfastened Baker’s seatbelt, pulled her from the car, and she fell to the ground, Fenlon said.
Baker feared was that she was being attacked when she was lying on the ground, faced down and was trying to hit and kick Stumpf, he said.
Stumpf was trained in hand to hand combat, and Baker did not have any weapons, Fenlon said.
“It took some time to realize she wasn’t being attacked,” Fenlon said.
Stumpf handcuffed her behind her back, and the two of them placed her in the rear of the vehicle, he said.
“Mrs. File said she heard screaming like she never heard before,” Fenlon said.
Baker had 10 sets of taser burns and went to her doctor the next day, he said.
“We will show you the policy and procedures of how these weapons are supposed to be used,” Fenlon said. “They should not be used as a prod. They should not be used to wake up an intoxicated individual.”
Defense attorney John Gilbert explained his clients did not violate the rights of Baker, who, he explained, was throwing a fit at the time of her arrest.
“She made the decision to go drinking and driving at 11 p.m. at night after work,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said Baker pulled into File’s driveway with the car running and the music blaring. Their dog started barking, which woke them up.
Stumpf retrieved the lockout kid from the sheriff’s vehicle, opened the car door and smelled the “overwhelming smell of alcohol.”
Officers tried to wake her up and then removed her from the vehicle, Gilbert said. She awoke and started kicking and screaming, he said.
“She’s so drunk she doesn’t know where she is,” Gilbert said. “There’s absolutely no evidence of sexual abuse in this case.”
“Stumpf applied the force necessary to gain control of the situation, and that was the taser,” Gilbert said, who added Stumpf was entitled to use “reasonable force.”
Gilbert described the officers as having to make split second decisions while Baker was kicking and screaming.
Stumpf then made the decision to sit Baker up, “so she wouldn’t choke on vomit.”
“He tells her to sit up, and she starts kicking at him,” Gilbert said.
“The evidence is going to show you they did not intend to hurt her,” Gilbert added.
According to Gilbert, Baker never sought treatment after being tasered.
“Even though she does have injuries, my clients did not violate her rights,” Gilbert said.
The case is Madison County case number 07-L-61.